New York Times did not need to stop the presses for Hitchens obit

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New York Times Communications Director Danielle Rhoades Ha reports the paper did not stop the presses, as originally reported, to include a story about Christopher Hitchens' death of cancer Thursday. "The story broke and was confirmed before the deadline for making our final edition," she said by email. The front page was redrawn to change the line-up of stories, but the presses continued to roll. News Presentation Editor Patrick LaForge checked with Associate Managing Editor Tom Jolly, who was working Thursday night. LaForge tweets that the first word of Hitchens' death came at 11:55 p.m., was confirmed at 12:10 a.m. and the (third) edition closed a few minutes late at 12:45 a.m. The obit did not make it in the national edition of the paper, Rhoades Ha says.

The Atlantic's Nicholas Jackson originally reported that the Times paused production to include the story about Hitchens.

A press stop is rare, says LaForge. "The New York Times does not literally 'stop the presses' often, but on Sunday night, after President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden, it did," Katherine Schulten wrote in May.

Christopher Buckley prepared himself to speak with an obituary writer about Hitchens:

Over the course of his heroic, uncomplaining eighteen-month battle with the cancer, I found myself rehearsing what I might say to an obituary writer, should one ring after the news of Christopher’s death. I thought to say something along the lines—the air of Byron, the steel pen of Orwell, and the wit of Wilde. ...

His journalism, in which he championed the victims of tyranny and stupidity and “Islamofascism” (his coinage), takes its rightful place on the shelf along with that of his paradigm, Orwell.

Vanity Fair's special section on Hitchens included a tribute from editor Graydon Carter:

Christopher was one of the first writers I called when I came to Vanity Fair in 1992. Six years before, I had called on him to write for Spy. That offer was ever so politely rejected. The Vanity Fair approach had a fee attached, though, and to my everlasting credit, he accepted and has been writing for the magazine ever since. ... Christopher had an enviable career arc that began with his own brand of fiery journalism at Britain’s New Statesman and then wended its way to America, where he wrote for everyone from The Atlantic and Harper’s to Slate and The New York Times Book Review. And we all called him our own.

Hitchens' latest Vanity Fair piece was published days ago. The magazine tells Politico's Dylan Byers that there will be one more essay penned by Hitchens published next month. Ben Smith reports that the essay is about Charles Dickens.

Slate's Jacob Weisberg recalls Hitchens' generosity. "For an aspiring journalist in Washington, nothing could be headier than Christopher's boozy instruction in radical politics and contemporary literature."

FishbowlDC's Betsy Rothstein alerted readers to a Washington Post obituary error discovered by David Teeghman blogging for the Missouri J-school. Teeghman grabbed a screenshot of the Post's original Hitchens obit by Matt Schudel (since updated), which contained dummy text for some key information. Teeghman's advice to newsrooms:

If you are going to write someone’s obituary before they die (which is standard practice!), you should probably fill in key details like “cause, place of death” of the deceased before you hit publish.

The Post did not feature Hitchens on its front page, based on the Newseum's version.

Other Poynter writers contributed to this report.

Correction: This post originally said the New York Times stopped the presses to accommodate Hitchens' obituary, but that was incorrect. It also said David Teeghman was at the Missouri J-school, but he has graduated.


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