A few years ago, I spent several days with a newspaper in Tennessee. They were converting from an editorial workflow based on QuarkXPress to InDesign and asked if I would be on hand when they sent their first issue using the new system to press. There wasn’t much for me to do while the staff cranked out pages. I was simply there to look over the PDF files before they went to press.
Deadline was 3:00 p.m. I remember checking to see if all the pages had been converted to PDF when I realized a couple of pages from the sports editor were missing. I walked down the hallway to his office and asked about his pages.
"It’s almost ready. I just have this hole to fill,” he told me. The hole was about three columns by five inches or so. I told him to get the hole filled and send the PDF files to me so we could get the paper out.
About ten minutes passed and we still didn’t have the sports pages. I walked back to his office and told him we needed those pages. “You’ll have them in just a minute,” he told me.
Five minutes passed, and his pages still hadn’t arrived. I made the familiar march back to his office and, trying to be as gentle as possible, asked where his pages were.
“I still have this hole,” he told me. I suggested he fill the whole with a photo or house ad or something. We were past deadline, after all. That’s when I got the real story. “The publisher told me if I kept filling space with extra photos and house ads, he was going to fire me.”
Quite the conundrum. I certainly didn’t want the young man to be fired, but deadline is deadline, and I was there to make sure the paper got out on time. That’s when I came up with what seemed like the only way to get the paper to the press.
“Do you want me to write something to fill the hole?” I asked.
“That would be great. Would you really do that?” he stammered.
I quickly walked to the publisher’s office and asked if he minded if I wrote a story so we could get the paper out. “Sure. That would be great, if you don’t mind,” he answered.
Double-checking to be sure I didn’t get the young sports editor in trouble, I stopped by the editor’s office and asked if it was OK with her.
It was June, long before college football season was set to begin, and in less than five minutes, I wrote “Kevin’s Pre-Preseason SEC Football Picks.”
It was one of those fluff pieces. What did I know about the upcoming college football season? I remember writing, “Florida will win the SEC East because they always win the SEC East.”
Two days later I thought I was seeing things when I saw my column appear in other newspapers. Apparently there were a lot of holes to fill that week in papers across the South.
Deadlines are funny things. Writers hate them because they force them to finish a column when they don’t know what to write, then they are forced to make changes to accommodate last minute space adjustments. Paginators hate them because the advertising staff can’t seem to get ads in by deadline. Sales staffs hate them because the paginators always get mad at them for bringing in last-minute ads. And printers hate them because no one seems to meet them. And customers, well they just want to get their paper on time.
I have had the opportunity to work on-site with thousands of newspapers over the years, and a person can’t help but learn a few things in that much time.
It’s deadline, and like many of you, I have to get this column out. In an effort to get that done on time, let me share a few helpful hints for those of us doing our best to get the paper out at deadline:
Paginators: Ads are going to come in at the last minute. Changes are going to be requested. A change isn’t a personal attack. When I owned an advertising business years ago, my biggest client told me the thing companies loved about working with me was I didn’t take it personally when there were changes to be made.
Ad Reps: Be as patient as possible with your customers. The paper shuts down without them. Be gentle with your designers as well. They have a deadline to meet. Understand your business office isn’t trying to keep you from making commission. Everyone is just trying to meet the deadline.
Reporters/Writers/Editors: Ads come in at the last minute. Without ads, we don’t have papers. Stories must be cut. Room must be made. Paginators are doing their best to get your 1,400 words to fit in a space big enough for 800 words. Do not take edits personally. Most of my syndicated columns go through a minimum of two editors, sometimes more. I thank them for each suggestion and rarely ignore them. More concise writing leads to better stories. I take my word count seriously and gladly adjust it when necessary.
I could easily write 2,500 words on the topic of deadlines, but I have a limit of 1,000 words for this column. Plus, as I look at the clock I realize my deadline is right now and editors are waiting by their email.
My final advice concerning deadlines: Be considerate. Put yourself in your coworker’s shoes. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just deadline.