Get me rewrite! Everything that's old is new again
By Adrian Morrow
As a kid, my perception of journalists was largely formed by old movies.
I imagined that reporters raced all over the world solving crimes while getting scoops, editors drained glasses of Scotch while working against the clock to get the paper out on deadline and fights broke out in the newsroom over the misplacing of commas.
Maybe those early screenwriters heightened the drama a little for the cameras, but those old-school newsrooms had a sense of urgency even greater than the modern ones for two reasons.
The first were rolling deadlines. Back then, people had fewer sources of information (and it took longer to print and distribute the paper), so newspapers published several editions a day. This meant reporters had to file several drafts of their stories, editors had to continuously edit them and the composing room had to re-jig pages as new stories broke (a pain-staking process that involved physically cutting and pasting articles and photos.)
The second was the rewrite desk. Before the age of computers, reporters in the field had to phone in their stories, and rewrite was there to answer the phone and copy it all down. Some of the reporters in the field (nicknamed "leggers") didn't even bother crafting stories themselves. They just read their raw notes to the staff on the rewrite desk and depended on them to turn them into a finished piece. To make this happen, rewrite had to work at lightning speed to synthesize all the information and file to deadline.
By the time I got interested in journalism, most of these old newsroom traditions had died or been replaced with more modern equivalents. Rolling deadlines were gone, as most papers now print one or two editions overnight; the rewrite men were few and far between, as laptops and wireless connections made it possible for reporters to file directly from the field.
But suddenly, it's all changing again. Ironically, it's new technology that's driving the change.
The Internet has become the new version of the early edition. Stories are posted continually and reporters have to file several drafts as their pieces evolve. We feel this the most strongly in the radio room, where we constantly chase breaking news stories, that often change several times in a day, as we find more information.
But the ultimate throwback came a few weeks ago when the Star added three people to the rewrite desk. Turns out, this staple of the old newsroom is perfectly suited to the web - you need someone who can quickly track breaking news stories, get information from several sources and blend it into a single story.
Now, when can we bring back the Scotch at deadline?
Photo courtesy CafePress.caAdrian Morrow is a veteran of the Star's radio room. He also worked as a summer reporter last year. email@example.com