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Working with early deadlines

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by naturenick, Jan 17, 2015.

  1. naturenick

    naturenick New Member

    A few months ago, the daily paper where I work went to a 10:45 p.m. deadline. Naturally, the sports department was most affected by this. We're getting nasty emails and phone calls from readers who complain that the quality of our content has suffered (it has), but we also are getting flak from the publisher for the occasional crazy Friday where we are 20 minutes late on deadline. (They're trying to push people to the "e-edition", but the quality of the interface is terrible and our readership is older, so they don't know how to use it as well.)

    It's a constant battle to get quality content in the paper, but to also meeting deadline.

    It's usually myself (sports reporter), the editor, and two or three part-timers. All of us are early in our careers, so we're learning.

    Any advice on how to handle this? How do we handle the publisher getting on our backs? Do I start sending out clips somewhere else?
    Bronco77 likes this.
  2. I Should Coco

    I Should Coco Well-Known Member

    Many of us have faced these earlier deadlines, and unfortunately the best answer is to meet them. Do the best you can to get local copy/photos as early as possible, and if that means shorter gamers or no quotes, so be it. If readers email or call to complain, give them the publisher's number or email address.

    And needless to say, if you're in the Eastern or Central time zones, forget about any wire results or agate. Run AP preview and feature stories, and NBA and NHL standings from after the previous night's games and see if anyone even notices.
    Bronco77 likes this.
  3. ColdCat

    ColdCat Well-Known Member

    I'm dealing with a deadline even earlier than yours so I know the pain. If you're covering a game, write as you go. I covered a basketball game with a running clock last night so I had the entire gamer written during the fourth quarter, only plugging in the final score and a few quotes later.
    If your area has a lot of high schools which do girls/boys basketball doubleheaders, go all out on your girls coverage.
    When you get to tournaments, find a good 6 p.m. game to cover and ignore the late games
    You will love spring. Nothing helps you hit an absurdly early deadline like a 4 p.m. track meet.
    You will hate the fall. Begin lobbying HARD for a later deadline on Fridays for football. With an early deadline, you can get in a short gamer and a bunch of pics, but nothing in depth and nothing more than scores from games you aren't covering. What we began doing was saving a lot of stuff from Fridays for a midweek notebook and running the complete "Last week's scores" as a breakout box with it.
    Overall, keep features and advances in your budget so you have some local content for those days when the JV game goes to triple OT and there's no way in hell the varsity is over before your deadline.
    Also, forget about anything late on the AP wire and root against any pro or major college teams near you because you DO NOT want them advancing far in the postseason since there is no way that game is over in time.
    spikechiquet likes this.
  4. joe_schmoe

    joe_schmoe Active Member

    "and our readership is older"

    This line alone is the main reason a lot of publishers are focusing on digital. The true newspaper readers will be dying off soon and the print subscription is soon to follow, regardless of if we want to admit that or not. The bad part is most publishers go to the extreme, start focusing on digital content before your digital interface is truly ready.
    Coldcat has some good ideas. Though here, spring sucks as we have hoops, diamond sports, golf, soccer, tennis, track and swimming all going in some form at some point. Golf, swimming and track are easy because most happen early (though some track meets can last well past primetime) But for hoops we do find boy/girl doubleheaders, with the early game being the focus, and maybe a quick quote for the late game, expand the story online (though it will be a pain in the butt because of the extra work). Baseball and softball, despite almost all the games being at night, are usually easier because the action is slow and it's usually easy to find the game story before the game ends. Write running when possible.

    And we do have later Friday night football deadlines. In Texas if you don't get in a good high school football gamer, you might as well not put out a sports page. It helps to have a publisher who understands that. When a new manager came in and tried to change that, we pled our case, and basically said look, we will hit your ridiculously early deadlines 353 days a week, but for 12 we are going to put out a product worth reading.
  5. BDC99

    BDC99 Well-Known Member

    Nothing you can do but set reasonable cutoff times for stuff. Don't plan on any wire games that start after 7, and tell the staff writers that if their stuff isn't in by X, then you're running a house ad. If the publisher isn't willing to adjust deadlines for the things that matter, there isn't much you can do but start looking elsewhere. Everyone is dealing with earlier deadlines than they'd like, but you just do the best you can.
  6. fossywriter8

    fossywriter8 Well-Known Member

    A few years back, in-town public high school boys basketball team was on the road about an hour away for a league game. We staffed it. Game went triple overtime. Had to push back the deadline. Publisher was upset and asked why we pushed it back. Sports editor explained the situation, and the publisher's response was that "you should have budgeted for that."
    The publisher has since moved on.
  7. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    Whenever they mention ridiculously early deadlines to me, I always tell them the truth -- I can get out whenever you want me to, as long as you don't care what's in the paper.
    Meaning, as long as you (the publisher) don't care that we don't do any game coverage or any sports news that happens after 3 p.m., then sure, I can make it out by 10. That usually is enough to at least start the discussion in the other direction.

    However, if you're stuck with it, you're stuck with it. So like others have said, just roll back and adjust your expectations. Second-day stories are your friend. Like others have said, maybe cover more girls games that start earlier.
    Try to build as much of the page as you can before you have to go to games so you only have a few holes to fill later. That includes agate, which has a lot more repetitive stuff than you think. Keep things like your football glances, local schedules, TV listings and things that only get updated a couple of times a week in files that you can just copy and paste or rename from day to day, instead of having to code the whole thing on deadline. Have as much of your early work cut and proofread as you can, and always have a backup plan in mind in case something is shorter than you expect.
    A little bit of prep work and preparation can save a whole mess of time on the back end. That gives you a bit more leeway to wait for a story. Even if it's only 10 or 15 minutes it can make a big difference.
  8. ncdeen

    ncdeen Member

    Wow, so glad to know that I'm not alone here, though I might have the worst deadline of the bunch: 10 p.m. I would kill for 45 more minutes. That said, I think we do a pretty good job for hardly ever being able to cover a game, which might make it even more frustrating because I truly believe we could have one of the best sports sections in the state if the publisher would do two things: later deadline and hire another hand in the sports department. If you can't hire another hand in the sports department, hire another hand for the press room just so we can have the later deadline.
    We don't publish a Sunday paper, so the only time we can provide in-depth game coverage for basketball is on Saturday, but then the game is two days old by the time it's in the paper. On a Tuesday night, we had our two crosstown rivals play in hoops and we asked for more time. 10:30, they said. The fact that we made deadline that night probably didn't help our case because we got really, really lucky. The girls game zoomed by, allowing the boys to start 20 minutes early. The game nearly went into overtime, and if it had, we would've been screwed. But it didn't. I hauled rear back to the office and wrote 18 inches in 20 minutes like a man possessed. Sports editor proofed it at 10:25, sent the pages at 10:29. 99 out of 100 times, it probably wouldn't have happened that way.
    The way we do it most of the time is when we have a lot of our teams playing on the same night, we send our photographer to one of the girl's games, and then we call all the coaches, write a 3-4 inch summary of each game and piece them together for a giant prep roundup, carried by a photo on the front page.
    For the most part, I really like my job because there are interesting people here and lots of cool stuff to cover, but I didn't get into this business to sit in an office chair while the game is going on and get the nuts and bolts over the phone from a coach after the game.
  9. Riptide

    Riptide Well-Known Member

    Once your deadlines move from midnight to 11:30 ... then to 10:45 ... then to 10:30 (been there),
    you realize how far journalism has fallen. "Your goals are unrealistic now. We have to satisy the metrics."

    Are there journalism goals anymore? My "performance goals" are all based on workload metrics. Boo-yah.
  10. naturenick

    naturenick New Member

    Thanks for all the responses.

    Unfortunately, the schools we cover don't do the girl's and boy's games one after the other. One of them plays at home and the other travels. Both of them start at 7:30. There are times I've been able to write during the game, but we had a game stay close the other night to the end, so I wasn't able to do that. (I'm also taking photos, tweeting, and taking notes during the game.)

    We've been working with early cutoff deadlines for getting info in and it's been ok during the week. (We hit deadline pretty much at the minute it's due.) It's just on Friday when we have double the space to fill when we have the most trouble. I think the best solution is just to fill as much as possible with features and other non-gamer material.

    We cover nine schools and most coaches do a pretty good job of getting stuff to us in a timely manner. However, you have the luddite coaches who don't seem to understand how to operate an iPad and insist on calling, which eats up more time than we care to give up. A few don't get it to us till 10:15 or later, so we have to tell them that it won't make it in the paper.

    However, then we get the phone calls complaining that there isn't a score or a box score in the paper. I think I'm going to start directing them to the publisher.

    The 10:45 deadline is what caused the previous sports editor to leave. Morale is at a point where I probably will start looking for something else as well.
  11. Bronco77

    Bronco77 Well-Known Member

    Unfortunately, I'm not so sure that finding another newspaper job is the answer. That 10:45 deadline isn't that bad by today's standards as papers try to drive readers from print to their websites and e-editions. I know of a central editing operation that handles multiple newspapers, and one of the sports sections' first editions has to roll by 9:30 Eastern time. Among the other papers, the latest roll time is 11. Late game stories and scores are handled in the e-edition.

    As I Should Coco said, one of the best ways to deal with early deadlines is to meet them. It has been my experience that failure to meet early deadlines often leads to even earlier deadlines.
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2015
  12. ColdCat

    ColdCat Well-Known Member

    Yes, it is.
    We also have double the space on Friday and what works is putting together all but two pages before you leave for your games. Six page section, have four ready to plate before you head out the door, leaving you front and jumps for late. If you have a college or pro football team in the area, you can dedicate a page each week during the fall to previewing that week's game. You can run an outdoors page or a racing page or a golf page if that's big in your area. If you run the sports on air, that's always a lot of room on weekends so throw that on a page you want to send early.
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