Writing on a Deadline: How to Stay Ahead as a Journalist

By Matt Holzapfel

Often times Journalists may find that their biggest enemy is in fact time. Racing against the clock to get articles or stories to their editors in time to have them published in the next day’s newspaper may at times seem improbable, but it is never impossible. It is important, however, to remember that while making deadline is key, journalists must not forget that the quality of the reporting always trumps the quantity of the reporting and the speed at which the reporting was produced. The stories featured in Chapter 1 of America’s Best Newspaper Writing showcase deadline writing at its peak, and prove that excellent reporting can still be produced in a short amount of time.

“Shiva for a Child Slain in a Palestinian Raid” by Richard Ben Cramer; The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 1978

This story from Haifa, Israel is a narrative about the death of a young child in a Palestinian commando raid on the highway. The author noted the importance of access and actually being on the scene in Israel where he could get first-hand accounts of what had happened from witnesses and family members of the victim. “I was trying to write and trying to wake the censor up to read it,” Cramer said. “I can’t tell too much about how the story was structured because it was written in a kind of white heat of frustration.”

“Jury Sends Santa Claus Killer to Electric Chair” by Leonora LaPeter; Savannah Morning News, September 1999

In this instance, the audience is relying on the journalist to bring them into the courtroom, just by reading her account of the events from inside a courtroom on a particular day. She obviously must be on the scene to report this story, but she also combines the account of the trial with interviews from a wide variety of people, all of whom are connected to this story in one way or another, and all of which LaPeter is able to do before the story’s deadline.


“Men of Steel Are Melting With Age” by David Von Drehle; The Washington Post, April 1994

Drehle uses vivid detail and imagery as well as comparisons to past events to bring this story to life. Because he is recounting the day of former President Richard Nixon’s funeral, Drehle finds a way to combine the events of the day, from sadness to nostalgia, to the past, “the titans of Nixon’s age gathered again today, on an unseasonably cold and gray afternoon,” Drehle writes. “Now they were white-haired or balding, their steel was rusting, their skin had begun to sag, their eyesight was failing.” This journalist likely had to attend the funeral, conduct interviews, and write the story all within a matter of hours. Luckily for him, however, he had the advantage of being able to use excerpts from speeches given at the funeral as quotes in place of some interviews.”

“In Belfast, Death, Too, Is Diminished by Death” by Francis X. Clines; The New York Times, March 1988″

America’s Best Newspaper Writing chose to use this piece as an “X-ray reading” to give the reader a more in-depth look at this report. Clines’ use of normally misplaced adjectives, such as “eerily placid” as well as other literary devices such as alliteration and vivid imagery bring this story of untimely deaths and seemingly out-of-place news media coverage to life in an article that is more than just “another story about a funeral.”

Other examples of Deadline Reporting:

Trump Says ‘Go Nuclear’ as Democrats Gird for Gorsuch Fight” by Matt Flegenheimer; The New York Times, February 2017

This report of conflict between Senate Democrats and President Donald Trump was reported on the same day amid what is certainly rapid fire story opportunities for politics writers as a result of the recent election.

Dwight Freeney vs. the Patriots; how NBA teams helped Atlanta” by Chris Wesseling; NFL.com, February 2017

Sports reporting is perhaps one of the most relevant examples of deadline reporting. Sports writers often times can only report on events that happened in the past week (or even just the same day) because they will lose relevance and the public will lose interest if they are published too long after the event actually happens. This report from Chris Wesseling comes just days before Super Bowl 51 between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots.

Wow! There Is a New Bat Drone” by Seth Borenstein; USnews.com, February 2017

In the technology world, much like the sports and political worlds, the public is often clamoring to hear the latest and greatest in technological developments. This requires technology reporters to be vigilant and quick when presenting their stories and reports to their audiences. In this case the public will likely be glad to hear that there is a new bat drone hitting the markets soon.


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