Maybe others should copy early LAT deadlines
Although I shuddered along with those who worried about the paper’s ability to cover late-breaking news, the initial results have persuaded me that most newspapers would benefit from the discipline of earlier deadlines.
Why? Because it would force them to put more thought and planning into their coverage.
As revolutionary as forethought might be in some newsrooms, the smart front pages produced at the LAT since the tighter deadlines were implemented suggest that early closes could lead to more of the deep, interpretive coverage that newspapers are uniquely equipped to deliver.
By playing to print’s singular capability to illuminate complex and subtle subjects, publishers can strengthen the competitive stance of the products that generate the vast majority of their revenues.
And that would be a good thing, too, because print cannot possibly match the speed, drama and timeliness that CNN or Twitter can bring to any breaking story.
Unfortunately for newspapers, too many editors and reporters feel their front pages have to match the evening news, instead of setting the agenda for the day on which they appear.
This anachronistic thinking leads to stale and unimaginative front pages that tend to reinforce the growing public perception that newspapers are stale and unimaginative products.
The early deadlines at the LAT, which took effect at the beginning of this month, are the not the result of a brave or noble experiment aimed at improving the quality of the product.
Rather, they result from harsh economic realities that caused management to decommission the Orange County production facility to save some $10 million a year.This forced the LAT to shave six hours off the deadlines for the A section, which is the fattest part of the paper and takes the longest time to print.
It still is possible to get late news into a separate section of the Times called LATExtra, which goes to bed at the same 11:25 p.m. as the front page used to close. Because press capacity is limited to 24 pages, it is not possible for the larger A section to printed at that late hour.
The new deadlines were put in place after the LAT in August began printing the Wall Street Journal at its main plant. Insiders say it was the shutdown of the satellite facility - not the WSJ job - that required the deadline shift.
So far, the LAT appears to be making lemonade out of this lemon. It rose to the unwelcome challenge by moving away from reactive and episodic coverage and replacing it with enterprise reports that tell readers things they couldn’t have learned by watching last night’s news. What a concept!
Page-one coverage since the commencement of the early deadlines has included cutting-edge coverage of the Toyota recall saga, a solid backgrounder on the political complexity of Yemen, a thoughtful analysis on the politics of the federal budget, an alarming piece on the plight of the endangered brown pelican and several human-interest pieces. The well-varied mix, however, was light on local enterprise stories.
As long as there is sufficient staffing to continue the production of quality articles, the LAT should be able to shine on most routine news days.
The test will come when the paper has to deal with a major, late-breaking news story like the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, who was gunned down after midnight in a hotel kitchen.
The LAT did a terrific job with the Kennedy story on that awful night in 1968. Could it do as well tomorrow?