GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

March 16, 2013

Why Did My Newspaper Do That? When news doesn't follow a game plan

Why Did My Newspaper Do That?
Ray Lamont

---- — If you expected the lead story in Wednesday morning’s Times to include the final vote on the Beauport Gloucester hotel project, you weren’t alone — so did we.

But a funny thing happened on the way to seeing that vote through to fruition late Tuesday night, and actually into early Wednesday morning.

Gloucester’s City Council, rightfully going the extra mile in carrying out its due diligence in gathering information and input regarding the landmark waterfront project, led and listened to more than five hours of presentations and testimony on the pros and cons of placing a 101-room hotel just off Pavilion Beach and Commercial Street. And when the public hearing was closed, rather than launch into voting and final discussion at 12:30 a.m., the councilors correctly pushed that back for one more night – ultimately approving the necessary permits when the meeting continued Wednesday.

All of that worked out fine, but it posed some interesting dilemmas for us here at the Times. And it served as a reminder —as if we needed one — that when you try to plan out the next day’s news coverage, even the best laid plans can be thrown astray.

Wednesday morning’s Times, of course, featured some dynamic photos by photo correspondent Desi Smith from the sometimes tense discussion Tuesday night, and Marjorie Nesin’s story captured the key points of the debate as well. Yet, with no vote, the headline on our lead story was simply “11th-hour cliffhanger” — essentially telling the reader that there was no decision.

Now, you may ask, why would a lead story — with by far the biggest and boldest headline, and covering nearly of Page 1 — basically say that no decision had been made? That, some might argue, nothing had happened?

Why, in other words, would your community’s newspaper do that?

In many ways, the extremely fluid City Council meeting Tuesday night served as a reminder of how volatile news coverage can be. But the bottom line was this: By the time the story was finalized, and it became clear that there would be no vote at least before deadline, the rest of Page 1 — and indeed, the rest of the paper — had been written, edited, designed and set in place, with only a large, blank, Page 1 box and space on the “jump” or continuation page open for the hotel story and the accompanying photos to be put in place, as they were at roughly 11:30 p.m.

While we would update our morning online coverage about the meeting and lack of a Tuesday night vote at gloucestertimes.com, late-breaking stories can still raise all sorts of issues for producing print editions of morning newspapers, and that was the case Tuesday night.

We had actually planned for a late meeting, swapping deadlines with our friendly colleagues at the Daily News of Newburyport to give us an extra 40 minutes. Desi had his later deadline for photos, and Marjorie was actually using her laptop and writing her story directly into our system, right from her seat in Kyrouz Auditorium as the meeting progressed.

But as even the new witching deadline dawned, it became clear that there would be no true conclusion — and indeed, the hearing continued to 12:30 a.m. Shortly before 11 p.m., Marjorie – working backward, since the latest news would be first — put what would be the first few paragraphs on the tip of her working story, while back here at the office, Community and Night Page Editor Joann Mackenzie and Sports Editor Nick Curcuru, helping out on the news side that night, came up with and added the headline that, while obviously not trumpeting a final verdict, conveyed the tense drama of the hearing.

Should that still have been our lead story that night — with no decision rendered? I would argue that it was; the scale of the project and what it means to Gloucester have made virtually any news regarding this project and the issues it raised front-page news at every turn. But I thought you’d also like to learn just how this story and front page came about — especially when there was no final decision to report.

As always, let me know what you think.

Questions? Comments? Is there an issue you’d like to see addressed in a future column? Contact Editor Ray Lamont at 978-283-7000, x3432, or at rlamont@gloucestertimes.com.