Breaking news on the night desk ... and bias
It sounds as if the reader advocate at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has had enough claims of bias.
He writes about a note he received after the Iraq elections. The paper had a late enough deadline that Saturday night (Jan. 29) to get in reports of early violence and polls opening. It had this deck under the main head of "Hope, fear in Iraq":
"Amid scattered violence, voters trickle into polls."
Trickle. Trickle?! A reader was incensed:
"The use of the word 'trickle' on your front page headline to describe the historic voting in Iraq was worthy of al Jazeera and has to be in the Top 10 all-time examples of media bias."That's so extreme as to be comical (and a great example of why I wouldn't make a good reader advocate, I guess; I doubt I'd come up with a civil response).
But David House uses it as an opportunity to explain how the night desk works when news is breaking. Here's a sample:
11:50 p.m. -- [Copy Desk Chief Tim] Sager releases the Page One summary to Sunday Coordinator Kate Gorman, who has designed the page and will flow the summary into place. The story for 26A is sent to News Designer Amanda Reiter.This does leave me wondering how it came that the AME for operations "and other editors" wrote those heads. (I have those "unnecessary involvement from higher up" alarms going off in my head.) Is the AME for operations usually there at midnight before a Sunday paper?
Assistant Managing Editor/Operations Danny Vandegriff and other editors have jointly composed the main headline for Page One ("Hope, fear in Iraq").
Midnight -- Gorman holds Page One for a significant update in the summary. Reiter holds 26A for the update. And what is this news? Wires report there's a "trickle" of voters -- a small but crucial piece of the answer to the turnout question.
12:10 a.m. Sunday -- Election updates are complete. Vandegriff and editors have written the secondary headline on 1A: "Amid scattered violence, voters trickle into polls." Page One and Page 26A are released.
And one other passing comment: House is right: Readers are looking for bias in everything, and it's getting ridiculous. That is certainly not a biased headline.
But it's not a perfect headline, either. Hindsight makes this easy, but I'd say the headline should have been less exact. You know that saying voters trickle in will be dated by the time readers get the paper. Perhaps it's better to simply say that voting begins amid scattered violence.