Why an obit missed deadline

Readers of The News & Observer woke up Thursday to news of the death of opera singer Luciano Pavarotti. At least, that’s what they saw on the front page in this blurb, which had the basic news, a reference to tight deadlines and a suggestion that readers go online for the full Pavarotti story. (Deadline pressure may also be the reason that a comma is missing after “ages” in the blurb’s headline.)

A turn of the page, however, gave readers a different story on Pavarotti. The headline on 2A read “Pavarotti’s health declines.” An Associated Press story described how the singer was very ill yet still very much alive.

So how is it that 1A and 2A could disagree? Blame it on a combination of deadlines and computer problems. A server crash hit the newsroom as the news of Pavarotti’s death hit the wire services, crippling the N&O’s ability to update pages for its final edition. Here’s how an e-mail from the front-page editor to the newsroom described it:

This system error did in fact happen right on deadline this morning around 1:45 a.m. The result was that we couldn’t print a newspaper that had a full Pavarotti obit on the front page, thereby shortchanging our readers and missing a great opportunity.

And the cause of the “system error”? Reporters and editors had too many personal files on the server, causing it to collapse at an especially inconvenient time. Another e-mail sent to the N&O newsroom listed people who have too many files saved on the server; most violators are reporters, but at least one is a copy editor. Curiously, one person on the list is a reporter who left the paper several weeks ago.

Moral of the story: Save files to the desktop or other out-of-the-way place. Don’t use the server that’s intended for daily use for long-term storage.



  1. Hmm, I’m not sure computer problems are a great excuse — 1 page can be fixed but not 2 or 3?

    And as for a reporter who no longer works there having files on the server … shouldn’t some HR type or the person’s editor have taken care of that?

  2. Actually, I’m a copy editor, too, whose desk just had almost the exact same server issue. I understand completely how that could happen — you update one page, then the computers crash before you can update the rest.

    What I’m in awe of is the 1:45 deadline 🙂

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