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 Examiners 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 weeks 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 newspapers 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
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 dont know!" I said.
"But Ill 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 Im 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. Ill be down there in and our with whole new copy for the sports
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 ones lungs has been for portrayed many times in journalistic fiction in
many media, but to my best knowledge and belief Im the only one in journalistic
history who has actually done so for real!