Technology often throws brakes on progress

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, December 14, 2004

To paraphrase an old saying: “Technology … can’t live with it,can’t live without it!”

In a decision a several months ago to keep The DAILY LEADER upto date in the ever-changing production side of the newspaperbusiness, we made a significant investment in new equipment toallow us to better produce your newspaper and get it to your doorsooner.

We began installing the first phase of that equipment the weekbefore Thanksgiving – our first error in a series of problems thatcame to a head last Saturday night.

Installing new equipment is always exciting. Despite thebest-laid plans, there are always new opportunities. And in thedeadline-driven daily newspaper business, where old news is nonews, those opportunities mean late press-start times and latedeliver times to our subscribers – something that makes newspaperpublishers grumpy and irritable, especially when the phone linesstart ringing with subscribers’ calls.

But technology is supposed to correct all those problems – atleast that’s what they tell us.

Arguably, the most read issue of the year was last Sunday’spaper. With a state football championship at stake, we had beenplanning for a week the coverage and production details of how wewould get it all out – on time! Additional laptop computers weresecured for the sports staff, and arrangements were made with TheAssociated Press office in Jackson to allow us to prepare photosand write stories there.

At 1:30 a.m. Sunday, only a bit behind schedule, our copy andphotos had been sent to Brookhaven via the miracle of the Internet.And so in the wee hours of the morning, I took the sports staff outfor a celebratory breakfast at one of Jackson’s finest WaffleHouses.

Meanwhile in Brookhaven, the disaster we have always feared washappening. New technology does what new technology does best – itreminds you that it is there. Ours just stopped! All of our pageswere ready; the press was warmed up and ready to go; and carrierswere lined up, ready to hit the street.

Our new equipment just said, “Nope, not tonight!” It is thefirst time in my 25 years at the LEADER that I was not completelyconvinced a paper was forthcoming anytime soon.

After some coaxing of a computer keyboard and a few earlymorning phone calls to sleepy technicians in New Orleans, we didget the presses running around 4:00 a.m. At 5:30 a.m., the lastcarrier was out the door, and the biggest local sports story insome 50 years on the streets – almost six hours late!

While many of the equipment issues have now been solved, newcomputer opportunities have evolved. We have found older computersget jealous of new computers and they, too, like to send out smallreminders. So we have been dealing with a few of those issues overthe past week. Add to that training of an already overloaded staffbusy dealing with the holiday season, and deadlines are thrown outthe window.

So please bear with us if your carrier is a bit late. You mayalready see some of the results of our work in the better qualityof our color pictures. Hopefully, very soon you will see theefforts of the efficiencies of the equipment as the delivery timeof the paper gets much better.

Technology is going to fix it … at least that is what theytell us.

Write to Bill Jacobs at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven, Miss.39602, or send e-mail to bjacobs@dailyleader.com.