Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Headlines and Deadlines

It's funny how the mind works. Here we are in Japan, with companies laying off people by the thousands in the midst of the latest recession, and the Japanese government comes out with a statement to the effect that they've created 150 jobs. ``Stop the presses,'' a colleague said, pointing up the fact that 150 new jobs against thousands of non-jobs is hardly an exciting bit of news. And of course we are no longer in a ``stop the presses'' environment, being a 24/7 news operation that puts up headlines and stories whenever the need arises.
Still, I have been at this long enough to remember when that phrase was actually used, and I got to shout it once at my hometown newspaper, The Chronicle-Tribune, in Marion, Indiana. Without resorting to Google, I was able to recall much of the detail of that Saturday night of Oct. 31, 1963, when a propane gas cylinder blew up at a concession stand at the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum during the opening night of a Holiday on Ice performance. It happened just as we were putting the Sunday paper to bed.
The tragedy, in which 74 people eventually died of burns and other injuries, still stands as one of the worst in the state's history. Our newsroom was a little more than 60 miles northeast of Indianapolis, but Bob Daugherty, our ace photographer, made it there in his Thunderbird in much less than that and got some stunning photos of the scene. We were able to get some of his pictures and a first-person account of the carnage (bodies of the victims were laid out on sheets of plywood on the ice as a makeshift morgue) into the morning edition.
I don't think I ever heard anyone say ``stop the presses'' in all my other newspaper years after that, and I do recall that the guys in the pressroom were not quite sure what to make of it when I did it on that night, but it worked, and it was the right thing to do. I'm glad I could hold onto the memory.