JOHN L. PITTS: Do not cross the dead line

By John L. Pitts/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Whether the clock on the Daily Journal newsroom wall is working or not – and right now, it’s not – the clock on the newspaper’s next deadline is always ticking.
Face enough deadlines – and I’ve been working in some kind of newsroom since age 17 – and you’ll eventually adopt an attitude that goes like this: “I don’t care who wins, as long as the game gets over in time for deadline.”
Certain kinds of decisions often get made with an eye on a particular deadline. That game you were sure would be on the front sports page in your morning paper might be tucked inside because we weren’t sure if it would be finished in time.
Another one of my newsroom sayings: “Well, we can’t leave a blank place.”
Sunday night’s Kossuth baseball playoff game is a good example of the deadline dance we often have to do. Who would have thought a 6 p.m. high school baseball game would grind through 18 innings and end at 11 p.m.?
I didn’t seriously think to myself that it might not get in Monday’s paper until about 9:45 p.m.
That was accompanied with a little cold sweat.
We waited as long as we could – the Journal’s press has to roll by a certain time each night to make sure you get your paper in a timely fashion – and then we had to go.
Try plan B
“How long do I have?”, Gene Phelps called and asked me as soon as the game ended and Kossuth had won.
“All night, if you want,” I said.
Plan B in a case like that? Gene wrote a short story for our website, then a long stoy at his relative leisure for Tuesday’s paper. Then I turned my attention to hoping that Monday’s games would end more quickly. And they did.
Until I decided to write this, I had never bothered to see why the word “dead” was so closely associated with a time limit. It dates to the Civil War, when prisoners (on both sides)were forbidden to cross a line drawn near the prison walls.
Cross the line, get shot. Thus, the dead line.
Leave it to some crusty newspaper editor to adopt the term for when a story is due.
And now that I’m finished, the deadline clock resets itself. It never stops.
John L. Pitts ( is the crusty sports editor of the Journal. He made his deadline for writing this with 12 hours to spare.

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