What it took to get the scoop on Saddam out to our readers

Posted: Monday, December 15, 2003

Before taking a last look at a printed copy of Sunday's newspaper and going home early that morning, Empire sportswriter Andrew Krueger made one last check of the top stories on the Associated Press wire to see if anything interesting was there. It was, and what he saw allowed us to "scoop" most of the newspapers in America by including the story in an "Extra" edition into which yesterday's paper was inserted.

A couple things worked in our favor Sunday morning: Krueger's check of the wire at the right moment; that the time in Juneau was four hours earlier than Eastern Standard Time and an hour earlier than even Pacific Standard Time; and the fact that a stubborn press plate had pushed work in our press room and our mail room back by about an hour. That meant our news, production and circulation departments could coordinate special coverage of the historic event - American troops' capture of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Krueger made his perusal of the AP news digest at about 1:30 Sunday morning, and what he saw were the first four of what would be nonstop updates on the capture of Saddam in his homeland. The first advisory moved across the wire at 1:10 Juneau time and said only what Iran's official news agency reported, that Saddam had been detained in Iraq. The second, third and fourth advisories, each containing more information, moved at 1:13 a.m., 1:18 a.m. and at 1:28 a.m., respectively.

With presses rolling, Krueger and Sports Editor Charles Bingham rushed to our press room to see what options we had for getting the news to our readers in Sunday's edition. At the same time calls were made to Managing Editor Lori Thomson, who rushed in to help coordinate coverage, and to Circulation Manager Bob Jacobson, who deemed the story important enough to wait for, saying his mail room crew and his carrier force could get the papers delivered within a couple of hours of our normal 6 a.m. delivery time.

Within minutes our plan for coverage became this: Galen Wyatt's press crew would complete its run of the regular Sunday paper, and we could then run a "dink," - a narrower, single sheet of newsprint - through the press to serve as an "Extra" in which the rest of the paper would be inserted. In the interest of time, the extra wasn't printed in color and a file photo of Saddam was run with accompanying stories because most of the early AP stories were not of top quality.

At 3:45 Thomson called me to let me know the status of the plan she and Jacobson had hammered out. When I arrived at our mail room minutes later, Krueger, Bingham, Thomson and Jacobson were hand-stuffing Sunday's edition into the Extra, and papers were being sent out with carriers within the hour. Work in the mail room was completed shortly after 7 a.m. and single copies of the paper were then being delivered to rack locations and other outlets.

By our normal delivery time of 6, Jacobson, Jenette Hixon and Kris Payne, our assistant circulation manager, were manning the phones to explain to readers that their papers would be late because of the breaking news and the special coverage we had planned. Those of you who waited until 8 a.m. or later to get your paper may not have known it was late, but you soon knew that we had gotten the story few other papers had.

As I returned to my room at The Prospector Hotel at 8 Sunday morning, the desk clerk had already taped one of the Extras to the wall behind the front counter. Seeing that, I couldn't have been more proud of the job our staff had done.

With the job my co-workers did Sunday, of particular importance was this: The people who were on hand at decision time did an outstand job of sizing things up and doing what ultimately was right for our readers and for this newspaper. The real proof in the pudding, though, came in the follow-through from our newsroom to our press room to our mail room and to our motor carriers. Their efforts reminded all of us here of why we love this business so much.

• Robert Hale is publisher of the Juneau Empire.

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