As 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?