Deadlines are our friends in this business. At least that’s what I keep telling young people starting out in the business (though I am not sure they ever believe me). Without deadlines we would be mired in the same story or same paragraph forever. Without deadlines we would never find the clever angle that pulls a disparate set of facts into a cohesive story. Without deadlines, hell, we might not have any friends, but that’s another story.
Last Friday, September 7, at the Princeton Chamber Trade Fair at the Westin, I put myself under a deadline that I hadn’t felt in almost 40 years and most print journalists will never feel — it was the unforgiving crunch of a deadline for an afternoon paper.
The idea was this: U.S. 1 would cover the opening of the trade fair, the 9:30 a.m. ribbon cutting and the exhibitors setting up and staffing their booths, and then — thanks to the magic of desktop publishing and the proximity of Document Depot, the digital printing specialists located a few hundred yards from the hotel in Princeton Forrestal Village — we would knock out an eight-page “special edition” that we would distribute at the conclusion of the Chamber luncheon at around 1 p.m.
Afternoon papers don’t exist anymore, but when I got my first job in the business, in 1965, it was with the Binghamton Evening Press in upstate New York. News was usually breaking at the beginning of the day — a trade fair opening, for example — and the final 1 p.m. deadline for the “five-star” final edition was not unlike my self-imposed deadline for the Trade Fair special edition.
It was at exactly 1 p.m. on one weekday in Binghamton when I was trying to finish a municipal news story and assistant city editor Jack Morton (now known as John Morton and a newspaper industry analyst and columnist for the American Journalism Review) approached my desk and said he needed the story “now.”
I replied: “But I’m not done yet.” With that he reached over to the typewriter, pulled the paper from the platen, and said “Oh yes you are.” He put the page in his typewriter, finished my story for me, and sent the article on to the waiting printing press.
That same friendly deadline was there on September 7. Photographer Craig Terry pulled off several great shots of the ribbon cutting scene (see page 41 of this issue), senior editor Barbara Fox helped me get captions for photos taken at 20 different exhibitor booths. Then the friendly deadline encouraged me to get my butt back to our office before 10:30 a.m., to begin the desktop publishing effort required to put photos and captions into the paper.
That was supposed to be easy. I had four of the eight pages locked up and ready to go in advance — all we had to do was choose the photos, size them to fit the letter size format of the extra edition, do a little Photoshop work to tone the color, and then write captions for them.
It was not so easy. The 11 o’clock target for delivering electronic files to Document Depot came and went. So did noon. With the huge digital photo files a simple save command turned into a coffee break on my computer. The four color pages had to be imposed on two 11 by 17 pages for Keenan’s color printer. When the pages were transferred the kerning no longer worked exactly the same, sending lines of type off into the oblivion of overflow boxes.
Back at Document Depot Keenan was not surprised. “So many things can go wrong in the digital workflow,” he told me later. “Most people don’t have the experience to set up files for the best possible product.” In fact, he said, even in techno-savvy Princeton, New Jersey, half the work that comes into his shop requires some amount of tweaking on his part.
As the Chamber luncheon was wrapping up and our special edition was still chugging through the DTP process, I rewrote the ender to the introductory article, referring to our distribution “just in time for the Breakdown Party” at 3:30 p.m. instead of the lunch. By 2 p.m. I was headed back to Document Depot with a CD containing the finished files.
Keenan and his staff loaded it into their computer system, and within 10 minutes the press run of 200 copies began. By quarter of three Keenan, Fox, and I were personally handing them out to attendees. “This is great,” one of them said. “I’ll go back to the office and be able to show the boss that I really did come to the show.”
I think Keenan, a former CPA who got into the document business after serving as controller of a copier sales company, enjoyed the experience as much as I did.
It was another testament to the power of deadlines. At 2 in the afternoon I was ruing the day I ever took on this extra edition. At 3:30 I was all smiles again and thinking about how it could be done differently next year. Deadlines really are your friends, though most deadlines are not as malleable as this one turned out to be.