Night printing means different approach to newsgathering

I used to love 11.30am when I was a reporter many moons ago on the Reading Evening Post. Around that time there was a pleasant, if toxic. inky smell wafting over the partitions on the ground floor from the back end of the building to the newsroom.

The press had fired up and within a few minutes the first (wet) copies of that night’s paper would be staining your fingers.

There it was – within 45 minutes of rushing around nailing that splash you had the physical product of your labours.

That is what I miss most about the shift from evening paper deadlines to the new morning product: buzz and turnaround.

The business case for moving to night-time finishes and crack of dawn print slots has been made by the industry heads, and in my experience has been hard to argue against commercially.

It has undoubtedly changed how news editors run their newsrooms, and it has required more organisation and tricks of the trade to make the stories appear as fresh as they can be – and that is a skill worth having.

The real key to the impact on the quality of the paper is whether you can still rip out stuff late at night, or if the company constrains the working day to more conventional business hours. At the Oxford Mail, we make changes late into the night.

Elsewhere, I have heard tales of things like fatals happening early in the evening and either nothing or a scant number of paragraphs finding a corner in the paper because it is too much of an inconvenience to change already subbed pages.

I do a lot more forward planning than I did previously on the Evening Post, and reporters now have a full day’s run at nailing every strand of a story. A lot more thought now goes into packaging up stories, rather than doing things on the run.

Organisationally, you also have to be more disciplined with setting time boundaries for reporters because now, by human nature, they drift a little past their finishing time in their desire to turn in the most polished copy. It’s admirable, but they should be out the door enjoying their normal lives.

You also need to present a stricter front to those treasured creatures known as PR officers by not allowing them to turn out balancing or explanatory quotes 30 seconds before they are off to the wine bar for a spritzer, when you’ve been waiting all day to stand up a story.

The shift to a morning (and loss of our second, late-morning, edition) has been a success sales-wise for the Mail, with two consecutive ABC rises.

You can’t argue with that, so while the buzz of having that paper in your hands so soon after writing a splash is gone, our aggressive web-first policy means the news adrenaline is there when something breaks. And there is the pressure to come up with the next stage in the story for print after doing the initial news burst online; again a good skill to cultivate among your staff.

And it saves on the dry-cleaning bills after accidentally wiping your inky hands across your suit.

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