Nobody ever accused news people of being graceful eaters.

Breakfast is usually on the run. Lunch is consumed in front of a computer. Dinner is eaten who knows when?

But there was a time news people hated the idea of getting caught with egg on their faces.

That’s how I got my first job at a newspaper that wasn’t published by an educational institution.

It was June 1978 and I was sitting at my desk as the assistant editorial editor of the college newspaper when a professor walked by my desk, stopped, backed up and said the local newspaper was looking for part-time help.

The local newspaper was a morning edition with an evening news deadline of 10 p.m. The press was fired up at 11 p.m.

The newsroom pretty much put the newspaper “to bed” around 6 p.m. on Saturday nights.

Who really wants to work Saturday nights?

On June 17, 1978 a tornado struck very near the Whippoorwill Showboat on Lake Pomona, causing it to capsize.

That very unusual and unique disaster resulted in 16 deaths and 3 injuries among the 58 passengers and crew aboard.

The Associated Press covered the story which appeared on the front page of Sunday morning newspapers across Kansas.

But it was not in the local newspaper.

Thus the need for someone, say a college student, to babysit the newspaper on a Saturday night.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

That was the sound the AP wire made as it sent stories to its members.

After that tragic accident and the embarrassment of the editors, on Saturday nights I arrived about 6 p.m. The newspaper was finished but pages 1 and 8 were held till 10.

My job was to screen incoming wire stories, listen to the scanner and make decisions on the weight of the incoming stories.

To change or not to change? That was the question.

Then the stories had to be typeset and run out through a laser imagesetter. The copy then had to be trimmed, run through a waxing machine and physically placed on the page.

I pretty much had free rein on the back page. To pull something off page 1 and make a change did require a phone call to the editor just for confirmation.

That job led to a summer intern job with that newspaper which, in turn, led to my first full-time job with a neighboring newspaper while still finishing college.

What sparked this recollection was the retirement of Abilene Fire Chief Bob Sims.

Chief Sims was the key source in reporting on two events which almost stopped the presses and both events did require late evening changes.

In February 2013 and again in July 2014 newspapers still didn’t want to be embarrassed when fire destroyed two of Abilene’s historic buildings: The Kirby House and the Great Plains Theatre, respectively.

In 2013 the Abilene Reflector-Chronicle, like the rest of the community, was frantically trying to beat an anticipated winter storm. Thursday’s edition had already been sent off to the printer so the newspapers could get back to Abilene before the major snowstorm closed highways.

That is when the call came in just after 6 p.m. that the Kirby House was on fire.

Pictures were taken, people were interviewed, a news story was created and the front page was completely changed.

Ironically, on an inside page was a story that read “continued from page 1” with no story on page 1.

The second time in 2014 I had been working for another newspaper for just four months. I was home mowing the lawn when the call came in that Great Plains Theatre was on fire.

After a cellphone call to my editor, I was told deadline was 10 p.m. to meet the first run.

As I was writing the story and taking pictures, the editor went down to the newsroom to completely change pages 1 and 8 to accommodate the tragic fire.

We news people still don’t like egg on our faces and we do everything we can to get the news out in a timely fashion but sometimes, still, deadlines get in the way.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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