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Stop the Press!
By Neal R. Bruckman
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In November 1963 I was a recent college graduate and took a job as the news editor of the Long Island Examiner, a local weekly newspaper published in Hempstead, New York. The official newspaper of the village of Hempstead, as well as several surrounding communities, the Examiner provided primarily news of local politics, local community events, and sporting events of its coverage area. The Examinerís advertising and editorial offices were located in downtown Hempstead, and the newspaper was printed at an independent printing plant in Freeport New York.

Like many newspapers of its day, every page of the newspaper -- every word -- was set in hot metal type by both Merganthaler Linotype or Ludlow and handset. Each page was locked in a chase and placed on an enormous flatbed dead press. Although printed flatbed, the newspaper was printed on a Web press using an enormous roll of newsprint.

Each weekís newspapers were printed on Thursday, and trucked to the post office for mailing on Thursday night. The editorial deadline, by which I needed to deliver all of the copy to the printer for typesetting, was approximately 10 p.m. on Wednesday, the night before.

On Thursday, November 22 I sat at my desk in the newspaperís office eating my lunch. The radio played softly in the background. Although I could go out and sell some advertising that day, I had little to do, since I had completed writing and editing the newspaper the night before. Suddenly my reverie was interrupted by the excited tones of a radio announcer interrupting whatever radio program was in progress at that time, to report that President Kennedy had been shot. "He has been taken by ambulance to a local hospital in Dallas," the report continued, "but his condition is not presently known."

I had seen a number of movies and plays and read books that contain scenes of newsroom drams, and new exactly what to do. So I picked up the black rotary dial telephone on my desk, dialed the printing plant in Freeport and asked for the foreman in the press room in charge of that shift. As soon as I heard his voice on the phone I yelled "stop the press!" as loud as I could.

I immediately walked down the hall where the owner of the newspaper had his office. From that office he directed the operations of his many small business enterprises, of which the local department store downstairs in our building was the principal one. He had literally started in business from a pushcart several decades before, and was now considered both the wealthiest and the most frugal man in town.

"President Kennedy has been shot!" I told him. "I just called the plant and stopped the press. I want to scrap the print run so far. I want to redo the whole front page, and then start the print run all over again." "How many papers we print already?" he asked. "I donít know!" I said. "But Iíll call the printer and find out." A few minutes later I came back with the answer. "13,000 copies got printed already", I said. "But I think this is the biggest news story of the decade, if not the century. It will have a lot of local impact, right here and all over the country. I think if I do a new front page about the local impact this will have, it would help put the Examiner on the map!"

"No way Iím going to scrap 13,000 papers!" he said, his accent still betraying his Eastern European roots. "Figure out what else you can do."

I went back to my office down the hall and called the printing plant once again. Because the big flatbed press was limited to 16 pages of type, when the paper ran more than 16 pages it was printed in two separate press runs. Then the second section was inserted into the first. So this week, while the main news section of the paper had already been run, the sports section had not yet been typeset and mounted on the press.

"Re-start the press run on the main paper", I told them, "but scrap the sports. Iíll be down there in and our with whole new copy for the sports section."

By this time the radio was reporting the somber news that President Kennedy was dead.

I sat down at my ancient manual typewriter and started typing vigorously in my traditional two-finger and journalistic style. An hour or two later I jumped into my trusty 1956 Chevy Bel-Air, and drove the 15 minutes to the printing plant I laid out a new front page for the sports section of the paper, and handed the text to the foreman for the Linotype operators to begin typesetting in molten lead.

The front page of the sports section was bordered in heavy black. "Kennedy the Sportsman" read the new headline now. A large picture showed the late president throwing out the first ball at a recent World Series baseball game. Another picture showed Kennedy and his brothers playing touch football at their family compound in Hyannisport, Massachusetts. But of the assassination of the president, the news story of the century, the front page of the Long Island Examiner carried not one word.

The journalistic tradition of picking up the telephone when an important story breaks, calling the press room, and shouting "stop the press" at the top of oneís lungs has been for portrayed many times in journalistic fiction in many media, but to my best knowledge and belief Iím the only one in journalistic history who has actually done so for real!


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