The Speed of News

I spent time working for the wires (Associated Press and Agence France-Presse) and did enough newspaper night coverage to have pushed deadlines as much as the next guy. I remember waiting for a lower-office candidate to concede one night in Providence, R.I., so we could get the governor to come out and celebrate his win.

That little twerp, down by 10 or 15 points, refused to accept he wasn’t going to be elected to Chief Bottle Washer or some such thing. Shooting for the AP, I had an editor in New York paging me every 10 minutes asking where the photos were … she actually asked me why I couldn’t make the governor appear.

Anyway, once my image was on film, I had to drive across town to my bureau to soup, edit and transmit. It was only a five minute drive and it would take about 12 minutes (cutting some corners) to have the film ready to scan (chemistry was mixed and cooking hours earlier in preparation). Another 10 minutes to scan, caption and send and I was done for the night. Less than 30 minutes from appearance on stage to bouncing off the satellite, I thought that was pretty good.

(We built a lot of darkrooms on-site, too, but not that night.)

Fast-forward eight years to November 2002. I’m photo editor of the Utica, N.Y., paper and have all hands out for election night. Me, I’m an hour or so outside of the city, waiting for a city councilor to make his victory appearance at his brother’s bar. My deadline is 11:15 p.m.

It’s clear he’s taking the seat early, but he’s not there. Nine p.m., 10 p.m., 10:30 p.m. I find his brother to get an update. “He’ll be here when he’s ready.” Uh-huh.

He shows up at – honest to God – 11:05. Why? Television is live …

He gets out of the car in front of the bar. Five frames of that. He hugs mom, four frames of that and I run to the parking lot. I have a laptop sitting on the front seat of my truck. Card in one side, cellphone plugged to the other … seven minutes later, I have a photo on my designer’s screen.

I was The Man.

John Harrington put together a video of interviews from Sen. John McCain’s Potomac Primary celebration. I knew about Reuters’ remote editing system (though I’ve never seen it in action), but J. Scott Applewhite’s statement shocked me: TWO MINUTES from appearance to being on the Associated Press’ wire … and that’s working by himself.

Preparation is everything, even now.

Mark E. Johnson

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