Friday, January 06, 2006

The Dangers of Early News Deadlines, Cont.

You may recall from my previous post that The Blade printed the story, later proved incorrect, that all but one of the miners in West Virginia were rescued. Well, it seems that they weren't alone. According to reports, at least 400 other morning newspapers, mostly eastern, printed some variant of the same story.

Jack Lessenberry, The Blade's Ombudsman (and a good friend of my dad's), wrote a column in the next day's paper explaining what happened, and why. You can read it here.

But, for those of you too lazy to read it, let me point out one section in particular:

I do not think a single editor in the country would have done things differently. The only newspapers that didn't get the story wrong were those whose deadlines came before or after the critical three-hour window when the AP gave us wrong information.

Unfortunately, that time is exactly when the final deadline falls for most papers in the eastern time zones.

The Associated Press is certain to investigate the error and will take steps to try to make sure a mistake like that doesn't happen again.

There is an old saying that in the newspaper business, the best thing and the worst thing is the same thing. No matter how good the paper was today, you have to put another one out tomorrow.

And when a mistake is made, you at least get to correct the record in print the next day.

You know, I remember a scene from the movie Minority Report, in which the protagonist is sitting on a subway train, dejectedly, after having just made a narrow escape from the authorities. He glances over at a fellow rider who is reading what appears to be a USA Today. Suddenly, the front page changes to a breaking new story, much the same way a TV program today would be interrupted by a special news bulletin.

It seems to me that if the modern newspaper is to survive in this day and age of 24-hour news channels, internet news services, and newsradio, then developing something like the device depicted in that movie may be the only way that will happen--something that is the same size and shape of a normal newspaper, but that constantly updates itself the same way the 24-hour news services do.

And, as an added bonus, the newspapers will not face the dilemna the continuous broadcast media faces: The need to fill 24 hours a day with news--which may have contributed to the report on Lindsay Lohan's asthma attack sharing space with the deaths of the West Virginia miners. I mean, come on!

You know, it strikes me that Minority Report, which is set about 60 years in the future, may be one of the more accurate displays of what the future may hold for our world. Perhaps the reason for this is that the producers got together with a group of scientists, authors, and other intellectuals to get their suggestions on how the world of the future might look. And in this day and age of downloading entire football games to your IPod and viewing entire full-length movies on a handheld video game console, can a world of talking personalized billboards and holographic newspapers be far behind?

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