Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Press Lags Behind on Big Story

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Press Lags Behind on Big Story

Article excerpt

IT'S NOT OFTEN the press gets caught with serious egg on its face - when the day's most important story makes a major turnaround just after deadline and there's not enough time to give readers a coherent, smoothly written account of the late developments.

In ancient times (the 1930s, say), newsboys might have taken to the street corners shouting, "Extra! Extra!, Read all about it!"

Last Wednesday's paper demonstrated the problem.

In all early editions, the main headline on Page 1A read, "FBI's Net Closes On 2 After Missouri Stakeout." It was followed by this smaller, sub-headline: "Pair Seized, Questioned In Bombing."

However, the two men the FBI had seized in Carthage, Mo., as possible witnesses in the Oklahoma City bombing were set free many hours before the newspaper landed on readers' lawns.

Only the final edition got updated, with half a dozen paragraphs about the men's release, and with a change in the smaller headline. The top headline stayed.

It's easy for broadcasters to grab and read two or three paragraphs off the news wires. For newspapers, though, the new information has to be dovetailed into the old story, which must then be trimmed to the same length as the earlier version to fit the space layout, and then placed on the page electronically under a rewritten headline and sub-headline.

Tuesday night's turn of events effectively undercut the story's importance, so that big headlines became inappropriate. The editors' solution was to rewrite just the sub-headline, making it read, "Pair Seized In Bombing, Later Freed."

Thus readers, like Judy Pfluger, understandably could think the story had been designed to sensationalize it - play it bigger than warranted.

In hindsight, it seems that a change in the big headline to some wording like "FBI Frees 2 Men Seized After Missouri Stakeout" would have made events clearer for readers who got the updated story, which came in after midnight, I'm told.

But for approximately 170,000 readers who got the earlier editions, the story was out of date - one of journalism's major pitfalls.

Whether to delay starting the presses in such cases is another of those judgment calls editors have to make - weighing news values against the costs. …

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