i Editor's Letter: When the news breaks


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The Independent Online


How do newspapers react when a huge global news story breaks with just half an hour to the print deadline? I was standing with my coat on,  leafing through the proofs one final time before racing across town to join our staff Christmas party. The “splash” for Friday’s i was George Osborne’s spending cuts. Suddenly, the news flash: Jacob Zuma about to address South African nation. Fortunately, our Deputy Editor, Rhodri, had only made it two minutes up the road. He turned straight around.

“I know you will have had all the Mandela stuff written up before,” writes Mick Devine from Ringwood, “but how did you manage to get it together for printing and delivery when the news broke at 10? I thought the paper would already have been put to print by then.”

Hopefully you didn’t notice that pages 1 to 9 of your Friday i were assembled in 47 minutes, after we junked the entire running order and started again. Michael Emery on our  “Qad” desk – it stands for Quality Assurance Department, the unsung heroes who deal directly with the presses each night – urgently rang from site to site, asking them to ditch the previous edition.

We did prepare several tributes in the summer, as Mr Mandela’s health failed, but when the news of his death reached our editors and reporters, they abandoned the nightclub and headed back to i HQ. When big news breaks, the newsroom crackles, people bellowing new information from 30 metres away. How is the world reacting? Obama is the most eloquent, let’s use his words on the front page. We’ve never flown so close to a deadline.

Today, i’s writers include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Bill  Clinton, Kofi Annan, Albie Sachs, John Carlin, Anthony Sampson, Peter Hain and Janette Bennett. You can find their correspondence here and in a 12-page pull-out in the middle of your paper.