Deb Sarah usually squeaks in under deadlines…

opposite of me cover-1As a former reporter, I’m used to print deadlines, and I’ve always loved the rhythm they create. Newsrooms tend to come alive slowly in the mornings as reporters wander in clutching jumbo cups of steaming coffee and little steno notebooks. Then tension slowly grows throughout the day until around five o’clock, when fingers frantically click against keyboards and shouts of “What’s another word for ‘corrupt’?” and “I need that story filed in seven minutes!” fly around those big, cavernous spaces.

But out of the hundreds I’ve faced, one deadline stands out in my mind. I’d just been hired at The Baltimore Sun and even though my eventual station would be the features department, my bosses wanted me to get a taste of different beats in the newsroom. So I took over the night shift one evening – a usually dull stretch of time in which a couple of warm bodies are needed in the newsroom just in case something happens before the already laid-out paper goes to press.

That night was the grand finale of the hit TV show “Seinfeld” and I was already trying to figure out which computer station was closest to a television, so I could catch the end of Jerry, Kramer, Elaine and George’s antics. Then, literally a moment before the show was scheduled to start, a power outage hit Baltimore. All over town, televisions flickered and went black. And phones began shrilling in the newsroom.

“We need to tear up the front page,” I heard the night editor say as I snatched up the nearest phone. For the next hour, I took calls from reporters all over town who provided “color” for the new front-page story. “I’ve got a woman in bunny slippers who ran out of her apartment to get to a bar to catch the show!” one reporter told me while I scribbled notes. I also frantically grabbed something called a “criss-cross” – a directory that listed the phone number of any address you looked up – to pinpoint which areas of the city were affected, so I could call and interview more folks about the breaking Seinfeld crisis.

I filed my story in the nick of time – and went home feeling totally exhilarated. I still get a charge out of meeting deadlines for my column for Bethesda magazine (reliably squeaking in moments before it’s due), but now I’m getting used to the slower rhythm of writing a novel under a deadline I’ve imposed on myself.

Have there been any deadlines you’ve missed in work or life – or made memorable?

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Sarah Pekkanen

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11 thoughts on “Deb Sarah usually squeaks in under deadlines…

  1. I laughed out loud at “I need another word for corrupt.” (morally bankrupt?) The papers where I’ve worked have always been “afternoon” papers, which meant that our deadlines were morning. So we’d have our stories mostly finished from the previous day, but we’d walk in with our coffee and have to slam into action to get the paper out. Lunch was our time to exhale, then we’d crank up after lunch for the next day.

    This is somber, but when I think of frantic deadlines, I think of 9/11. I was working in a small-town Michigan newsroom, but obviously this was a story anywhere.

    I remember the horrid silence as we watched the second plane hit on TV and realized this was more than just a weird story out of New York, and someone shouted they were going to a local restaurant to get quotes and the whole room just exploded. This happened right on our morning deadline. Talk about tearing up a front page.

    Anyway, back to my novel, speaking of deadlines….

  2. I love this anecdote! The newspaper I worked for was teeny-tiny, but we had the same rhythms — sudden spats of frenetic energy followed by long, quiet, fingers-drumming-on-desk downtime. I loved being able to shout out random questions as I was writing (“Hey, what’s that dude’s name who owns the Christmas tree farm?”) to whoever was nearby, and be regaled with endless stories from fellow reporters about anything & everything remotely related the question. No special deadline memories come to mind. Every Tuesday night we got the paper out, and every Wednesday morning we’d all roll in no earlier than 10:30, bleary-eyed but proud.

  3. Now that’s a fun catastrophe. Hope the local TV station reran the episode. And all this newsroom talk leaves me thinking I’ve missed out on some great times.

  4. What a fun “Seinfeld disaster” front page you must have had the next day!

    PS Sarah–Just finished delighting in “Opposite of Me”–will email with details of my enjoyment when my personal email is back in reach 🙂

  5. Joelle, you crack me up. I’m also taking the Fifth. I was telling Kristina that I miss the camaraderie of a newsroom, but have found a bit of it by becoming a Deb. We’re not shouting across our desks at each other, but the support and encouragement is here, just the same.

  6. I like deadlines (sort of the way I like lists) but I am goody-two shoes enough not to have missed any that I can remember. I’m probably going to get rotten tomatoes thrown at me but I never even pulled all-nighters in college worrying about deadlines or exams or anything. Quite honestly, I don’t think I’m built to withstand the amount of pressure it would take to come within blinking distance of the deadline!

  7. Fantastic story, thanks for sharing. You create wonderfully full images in short order.

    By the way, I think there should be a Deb swimsuit calendar. I have confirmation that Sarah used to model, but I cannot reveal my sources.

  8. D.O. – remind me to tell you about how we Debs came thisclose to getting our own reality TV show!

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