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We can't forsake our deadlines

October 24, 2004|by LINDA DUFFIELD

Remember the classic Western, "High Noon"?

Those who do will recall the importance of a ticking clock, its hands inexorably carrying Gary Cooper closer to the time when he would face the bad guys.

Now, I'm reaching a bit here, but I'm about to compare the newsroom to "High Noon."

Granted, making deadline isn't a matter of life and death, but it sure can feel that way some nights.

Gary Cooper had mere hours to try to gather supporters to help him in the upcoming gunfight against the Miller gang. We in the newsroom have a mere work shift in which to put out an entirely new product by a certain time. In our case, it's 12:35 a.m. most nights.

For Cooper's Sheriff Will Kane, it was a one-shot deal. For us, it's dja vu all over again, every night.

Unlike in most workplaces, where watching the clock is frowned upon, we in the newsroom aren't doing our jobs very well if we aren't aware of the time - all the time.

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That entails a lot of checking wristwatches and the large clock that hangs on the wall. The idea is to know where we are at any given time and to calculate whether we're ahead or behind.

An editor who is behind must adjust his or her speed, moving from working quickly and efficiently up to warp factor 9.

The thing about a deadline is, it usually doesn't change. But the news can be capricious, refusing to break out at a time convenient for editors who are working furiously to finish and proof pages.

Sometimes local news occurs after 10:30 p.m., making it a race to gather information, write a story, edit it, put it on a page, slap a headline on it and still beat the clock.

Similarly, the sports staff can't predict when a Monday night football game will go into overtime, or when a World Series game will go 13 innings.

Doesn't matter. Gotta make deadline, even if it means running a filler story so the press can start on time, and then replating when the game, whatever it is, finally ends.

The train is pulling in to the station and Frank Miller is getting off.

It's a daily adrenaline rush, and I would guess most of us are addicted to that feeling. If we hit deadline, we win. If we miss deadline, we lose and have to explain why, in writing.

Note to the boss: We try hard not to lose.

We have one thing going for us in the newsroom that Will Kane didn't as he waited for Frank Miller's train to arrive.

Kane could find nobody willing to help him and was forced to face the gang alone. Sure, his bride saved the day, but that's beside the point. The townsfolk let him down.

Here, the ticking clock doesn't scare us because we've learned to work as a team. I can't imagine one of us not offering to help somebody who, for instance, has fallen behind or has an extra heavy workload or a throbbing headache.

Had Kane formed a posse that stood with him, "High Noon" could not have been what it was.

If the opposite were not true here, well, chances are we'd lose the shootout.

Linda Duffield is managing editor of The Morning Herald. She may be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7591, or by e-mail at lindad@herald-mail.com.

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