When events get ahead of our newspaper

By the time many of you picked up your Spirit at stores or in your mailbox last week, some of the news we featured was no longer up to date.

Case in point: our front-page coverage of the gun-related legislation before lawmakers in Charleston. Our deadline requires us to assemble each week’s edition of the Spirit on Tuesday, with distribution starting the following morning.

Last week, the gun debate was still raging as we created our edition on Tuesday but by Wednesday, legislative leaders in the Senate had shot down a controversial measure the House had passed 94-to-4 that would have upended gun control laws long in place in Charleston, Martinsburg and two other West Virginia communities.

It takes hours and hours to print and distribute a newspaper so our medium has a built-in lag time that doesn’t so hinder TV, radio and Internet news coverage. And that can be frustrating.

Perhaps the worst recent example of this disparity came thanks to the Sago mining disaster in Upshur County in early 2006. Daily newspapers across West Virginia and nationally went to print shortly after midnight celebrating the just-released word that all but one of the coal miners trapped 260 feet below ground following an explosion had been found alive.

But by 3 a.m., the news had turned grim: Actually, just one miner – Randal McCloy – was clinging to life at a local hospital. Rescuers had found the bodies of the other 12 men. It turned out there had been a miscommunication between rescuers underground and the command center providing information to reporters.

For newspaper readers, the next morning’s celebratory headlines were all wrong; those who instead relied on online news sources or radio or television news did get the harsh truth.

Sometimes, the news happens faster than any journalist in any medium can anticipate. As readers picked up our March 27 edition to read our business story on Whitney Burch Barrett and the Jefferson County Development Authority’s efforts to match local commuters with jobs closer to home, the stunning news of Barrett’s death was making its way through the community.

Just days before, Barrett had contacted the Spirit to ask for help in getting out word of the JCDA’s efforts to build its database of local workers’ resumes. Her goal: to help Panhandle residents shorten their commutes if possible and enjoy a better quality of life, with more time for their families and other fun.

Readers were left to balance news of Barrett’s untimely passing with our article showcasing her continuing desire to bring more good to the community where she’d grown up – an immeasurably sad task.


– Robert Snyder

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