Last week I got an email from "The New York Times" entitled "The Story Behind the Story." In it, writer Alison Mitchell describes how the Times "scrambled to report on Osama bin Laden's death."
What follows is essentially a minute by minute account of reporters, rewrite people, editors, photographers, film editors and more, working to remake an edition of the Times so that one of the most important story in years could make it to the paper.
The Times literally "stopped the presses." They destroyed 7,700 copies of the paper that had already been printed. Though it was 10:30 on a Sunday night when it was announced that President Obama had an statement to make, Times people began flooding the newsroom. "Usually we're operating with a skeletal staff this late on a Sunday...[that night] We counted 103 people in the newsroom."
After Obama made the announcement at 11:30, all those journalists went to work. bin Laden's obituary was updated. Reporters were dispatched throughout the city. A rewrite person ran to Times Square for 20 minutes and "anchored a story about the spontaneous and raucous midnight celebrations that included reporting from colleagues at the White House and Ground Zero."
By 12:45 AM, the entire paper was remade and ready to print. While that was happening the Web News Editor was remaking the content on the Times' site. That was done by 3AM and a new crew came to continue the job at 5AM.
I think about this action in terms of the inaction that afflicts most agencies and clients. It takes us sometimes years to come up with an advertising campaign, longer sometimes, for things like websites.
I know comparing journalism and advertising is apples and oranges. But we can all learn a lesson from organizations that know how to get shit done.