Rushing into print before the nonexistent deadline

Ed Kemmick

Ed Kemmick

When I went into the Last Best biz, I thought one of the great advantages of this new kind of journalism would be the lack of deadlines.

Working at a newspaper, you live and die by deadlines. You’ve got a physical product, a bundle of newsprint and ink, that has to be published every day of the year. To get a paper on the subscriber’s doorstep in the morning, the paper has to be printed the night before.

That means all the pages have to be through a window to the pressroom by a certain time each night, usually about midnight for the city edition of the paper. You can fudge by 10 or 15 minutes in a pinch, but you can’t get away with that very often, understandably.

Getting a newspaper out is a collective enterprise. Reporters have to be done with their stories early enough that the editors can edit them, round up the photographs, lay them out on a page and get them through that window to the pressroom.

The pressmen have to get the paper printed early enough to get them to the carriers in time to deliver them to those doorsteps.

But now? Now I’m on the Internet, where time doesn’t really exist, as in a Las Vegas casino.

I publish stories when the stories are ready. Sometimes that’s 6 a.m., sometimes it’s 6 p.m. A few times it’s been past midnight. I try to post something new every day, but there’s no publication schedule, no “window” I have to shove a story through by a certain time.

I guess that is an advantage in some ways. It’s nice to never be on the clock. But as a friend who started a similar venture told me before I began, the disadvantage is that you’re never off the clock, either.

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Too true. I’m somewhere between on and off the clock right now as I type this. I’m in Brockway for a story, which I’ll write one of these days. There is a deadline because the Great Falls Tribune wants to run my story, but it’s days away. In the newspaper biz that’s hardly a deadline at all. More like a vacation.

But the thing is, I’ve got a Prairie Lights column to write. The deadline for that’s kind of fluid, too. I try to post the column sometime after midnight on Saturday, no later than 8 or 9 a.m. on Sunday. Last week, when I was in Butte and knew I’d be busy in the evening (“busy”: a euphemism for hanging out in the Silver Dollar Saloon), I posted my column early Saturday afternoon.

Putting off the deadline that wasn’t

This week, I kept putting it off and putting it off and here I am with no real idea for a column and no Internet service anyway. We’re spending the night in Brockway, which means I can’t post anything until we get up in the morning and drive to somewhere with a Wifi connection. Jordan? Probably not. Circle? Close, but the wrong direction. Terry? That might work, but we wanted to take back roads to Billings, heading west out of Brockway. That’s more than half the fun of these Last Best News road trips. We want to see new country every time.

So we’re in Brockway, population maybe 20, probably closer to 15. We had a great day, but passing through Winnett in the morning we learned that the town was celebrating its 100th anniversary this weekend. We’d like to have been there for that celebration, but there aren’t enough days in a week.

Three or four other people told us we really should go to Richey on Sunday for the rodeo. We can’t do that either. The Montana Legislature should look into creating a longer summer. It’s ridiculous how quickly it passes.

Well, folks, this is a first. This has just become a real-time column. Because now it’s a couple of hours later and we’re in Circle, on Saturday evening. We heard too many good things about the Round Towne Tavern and Casino.

It is a marvel. It wouldn’t be out of place on the West End of Billings, and it’s as big as the biggest new bar-restaurants in Billings. And it’s got a good shuffleboard table. I figure it’s the Bakken effect but I don’t really have time to inquire. I’ve got to post this column while there’s a Wifi connection.

I do apologize that it’s not really about anything, but at least you’ve learned something about the newspaper biz, and about the pitfalls of being an itinerant reporter in the digital age.

And you’ve heard about the Round Towne. I think that’s enough for one day.

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