JFK tragedy pushed deadline for Dispatch

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Word of a major drug bust reached our newsroom late Wednesday night - too late for Thursday's print edition. We did publish a story and photo under "breaking news" at newsitem.com overnight, and it remained top billing on the site on Thursday.

Even so, having to wait through the 24-hour print news cycle remains a painful process for those whose job it is to alert the community as quickly as possible. As with anything else, timing is everything.

I raise the issue in noting that, 50 years ago Friday, the newspaper gods provided much better timing for one of the century's biggest stories: JFK's assassination.

We had yellowed copies of the Shamokin News-Dispatch in the newsroom this week, brought out from various corners of our building and people's homes in recognition of the anniversary. Reading the headlines I was surprised to learn that news of the president's death had made that same day's paper.

That makes sense considering the News-Dispatch (which merged with The Mount Carmel Item five years later to create The News-Item) was, like most of its time, an "afternoon" paper. Still, Kennedy was shot at 1:30 p.m. Eastern time and died at approximately 2 p.m., so it was likely a hectic afternoon in the newsroom to say the least.

It was unique, no doubt, that a headline was placed at the very top of the front page - above the nameplate - that day. It said, simply, "President Assassinated," and the type was nearly 1 1/2 inches tall and the words spread across the full 16 1/4-inch width of the page image. (The paper seems so wide compared to today's narrow 10 inches.)

A small "Good evening" box to the left of the nameplate said, "Shocked nation goes into deep mourning over assassination of President Kennedy."

The main story about the assassination took up the right four columns of the nine-column front page layout. The fact that it didn't dominate the entire top of the page - instead sharing space with "State Resumes Medical Tests For Motorists," "Reds Reject U.S. Protest of Blockade" and five other headlines that were above the fold - is among the clues that the assassination story came late in the deadline process. The story was topped by a three-deck headline that read, "JFK Shot in Right Temple; Wife in Car; Texas Governor Hit."

Another clue as to the last-minute injection of the terrible news in that day's edition is found in another JFK-related story placed below the main. It was headlined, "Mrs. JFK's Charm Noted by Texas," and had this lead paragraph absent of any word of a shooting: "FORT WORTH, Tex. (UPI) - Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy, to the amazement of some professional politicians, is matching her husband handshake for handshake on his current Texas tour. Democrats are delighted."

Of course, by Saturday, Nov. 23, 1963, JFK's assassination dominated the front page, which was topped with a full-width headline that read, "Kennedy Returns to White House in Death." There were seven stories and two photos on the front page pertaining to the shooting.

All things considered from 50 years ago, the frustration of waiting 24 hours to get a drug bust into print pales in comparison. While many are no longer with us, here's a tip of the hat to the excellent job in getting this news out on what had to be a demanding and sad Friday in the newsroom.

(Andy Heintzelman, editor of The News-Item, writes "The Week In News" for each Saturday edition.)

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