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Best-laid plans often go awry on Sunday

April 09, 2006|By TIM SHEA

Not all papers are created equal at The Herald-Mail.

Some are more challenging than others. Trying to put together a Sunday newspaper such as the one you are reading now presents different decisions to be made every week.

The first thing that makes the Sunday paper a challenge is the fact that only two reporters work in the office each Saturday. Generally, one reporter works the "early" shift and the other works the "late" shift.

The reporters usually are assigned to cover two stories apiece by Associate Editor Linda Duffield, who coordinates the Sunday assignments.

Sounds simple enough. But what happens when there is breaking news?

If there is a major breaking story (homicide, big fire, bad vehicle accident), then it's a no-brainer. One of the two reporters has to go cover the story. If it means having to cancel out on covering one or both of the original assignments, that's the way it goes.

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If it is uncertain whether a breaking event is considered "major," then it gets trickier.

A case in point was last Saturday. A call came in over the scanner in the newsroom about an accident on Interstate 70 just over the Washington County line in Frederick County.

I didn't hear the initial call, but I heard reporter Tara Reilly say two words I usually don't like hearing.

"Uh-oh."

Turns out the call was for an accident involving a van that had rolled over and involved children.

At this point, I have to start weighing what to do. What kind of van is it? A passenger van that can hold eight to 10 kids? A minvan with only two children as passengers?

Do I send Tara out to the scene of what might not be a bad accident? Is this going to put Tara behind on her other stories if we go out and find out this isn't a "major" accident? Or are we better being safe than sorry?

I think I'm pretty good at judging situations such as this, but it's good to have some help in making the decision. I usually rely on copy editor Dave Rhodes while trying to weigh these questionable situations. He's been at The Herald-Mail for 20 years - a lot longer than I've been in the journalism business. I don't hesitate in asking for guidance from him or some of the other editors who work on Saturday.

After a few minutes, when we heard that a helicopter was going to the scene, it was time to send Tara to see just what was going on.

The result: Tara got stuck in traffic on I-70 for a while. When she finally got to the scene of the crash, she saw that this was a minivan and not a bigger van where a lot of passengers could have been injured.

Not to downplay the severity of any traffic accident, but in this case, unless it was a fatal accident, we decided to wait for the Maryland State Police to send us a press release on it and we would get a short story in the paper.

This is just one decision that has to be made. There are other decisions as well, such as what stories will run on what pages. Do we need to move a story onto the front page? Do we move a story off the front page onto another page? Do we have enough room in the paper to get in all of the stories?

To get into the details of every decision that needs to be made would take an entire page. Some of the decisions are easy; some are more difficult.

At the end of the day, I hope that all of the decisions are the right ones.

Tim Shea is a Herald-Mail copy editor. He may be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2329, or by e-mail at tims@herald-mail.com.

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