GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

February 9, 2013

Why Did My Newspaper Do That? The challenges of storm coverage

Why Did My Newspaper Do That?
Ray Lamont

---- — All right, I’ll say it.

I hope at least some of what you’re reading in today’s lead story actually turns out not to be true.

And while that may sound like heresy for any journalist under nearly every circumstance, the reality is pretty basic. I sincerely hope that many of the dire forecasts noted in today’s blizzard story prove to be false — though the odds on that were growing dimmer and dimmer as the storm began to intensify Friday afternoon and especially into Friday night.

Of all the news challenges facing community newspapers and other media these days, one of the most vexing can be handling the timing of stories that occur – or expected to occur — overnight. And that indeed is the case with today’s storm coverage.

Indeed, a classic example of that actually occurred last month, when our story across the top of Page 1 rightfully noted a parking ban, yet also referred to the snow that was “pelting” Cape Ann while readers were browsing through it that Monday morning. As it turned out, the expected overnight snowstorm abruptly changed course and shifted out to sea at about 11 p.m. the night before, so there was no snow pelting anyone by the time readers got their morning Times. The city’s parking ban? That had indeed been put in place beginning the night before, but was withdrawn by Mayor Carolyn Kirk by 9:30 the next morning, when it became clear that the anticipated storm turned out to be a dud.

Given the way that story played out, and perhaps given that not all of what you see outside today may match what’s described in this morning’s paper, you may well ask why we would handle the story that way. Couldn’t we just wait until we had a more thorough idea of what transpired late last night? Why, in other words, would your community’s newspaper do that?

The basic reason is timing. With this storm approaching and then developing throughout the day Friday, we honestly moved up our Friday night deadlines to, among other things, try to get the paper put before we ran into any major power outages ourselves, and to give our press crews and delivery carriers as much time as possible to carry out their end of the business.

On one hand, we know there is a lot to tell you – notably that, for folks right along the coast, the worst hazards could still come this morning, with emergency crews around Cape Ann and elsewhere worried about an intense storm surge with the morning high tide. But the truth is, the story referring to that was written yesterday afternoon and finally edited last night.

That, in essence, is what happened during the non-storm in January. You see, the idea is to bring you the news in the most current and up-to-date format possible — and we’re especially able to do that through our online coverage today. But, when it comes to the print edition of the Times, the paper, out of necessity, has to be put to bed the night before. So the morning print edition simply cannot be produced to cover what might have changed after our nighttime deadlines.

In the January case, someone — yes, me — thought that at least some snowfall was so certain for at least the early-morning hours that our story — again, written as late as possible the night before — referred to snow pelting Cape Ann when folks were reading the news. As it turned out, it wasn’t. Oh, that we should be lucky as you’re reading this morning.

Storm coverage, like weather forecasting, is often an inexact science. But, between today’s story, and updates we hope to bring you online throughout the weekend at gloucestertimes.com, we will, as always, get you the latest word on the storm and other news as soon we get it ourselves.

Stay safe — and as always, let me know what you think.

Questions? Comments? Is there a topic you’d like to see addressed in a future column? Contact Times Editor Ray Lamont at 978-283-7000, x3438, or at rlamont@gloucestertimes.com.