Election night puts severe strains on reporters, editors, printers, photoengravers, pressmen, production executives and circulation workers.
Collecting vote totals is a massive job in itself. Transforming the digits into a series of ever-changing interpretive narratives adds a new dimension to the task.
If you then add other news of the world, advertisements, comics, sports results, classified ads, the temperature in Buenos Aires and the forecast for St. Louis, the price of gold in Zurich, movie reviews, what's on the tube tonight, Ann Lander's advice, the Federal Diary's faithful watch on the bureaucracy, Andy Beyer's hot tip at Laurel and Dr. Frank Miller's counsel on what to do about a sick goldfish, you get a fair idea of how much type you'll have to set between the time the polls close and the presses start. t
When the type is set, it will fill 100 or more pages. If you sell 600,000 papers a day (we sell more), you face a gigantic manufacturing and distribution problem. You must print 60 million pages and deliver them to 600,000 individual customers by daylight -- whether it rains, sleets or snows.
This is not a simple task, but it is accomplished rather routinely. The secret lies in careful planning, precise timing, sophisticated and costly equipment, and a team of skilled professionals who know how to cooperate while working at top speed.
Occasionally they raise their voices during the course of a tense night's work, but there's nothing personal in the earnest cusswords that sometimes punctuate the running battle against time. Those safety-valve words are just innocent manifestations of a common determination to give the reader his full 20 cents' worth.
I may be a teeny bit prejudiced, but I think my colleagues do a remarkable job, night after night, and that they deserve commendation for it.
Production bosses soon learn that they must often sacrifice manufacturing efficiency to accomodate editors who want to get later news into the paper. However, even our cooperative production bosses are not likely to permit comic page corrections or updates on an election night. Their precise timing schedules would fly out the window if they did that. So this must be one section of the paper that will not be kept current throughout the night.
Instead, I invite you to share a breakfast of prepackaged leftovers with me. We can begin with one that's hardly had time to turn cold.
It's from John F. Radowich of Beltsville. He reports that after the Carter-Reagan debate on TV, he attempted to phone ABC to say he thought Carter had won.
At 11:05 p.m., he began dialing the number assigned to those who wanted to vote for Carter. It was busy, busy, busy. During the next hour, he dialed the Carter number 48 times. Three times he heard recorded announcements that all the lines were busy; the other 45 times he couldn't even get the recorded announcements -- just busy signals. During that frustrating hour, "just to see how Reagan was doing," he twice dialed the number assigned to those who wanted to vote for Reagan. He got through both times and heard a recorded voice say that his vote for Reagan had been duly recorded! "The strange aspect of all this," says John, is that ABC announced afterward that the Reagan lines drew twice as many calls as the Carter lines.
Another stange phenomenon was the letter sent out to Maryland Republicans by Allan C. Levey.
It said, "Not long ago, Ronald Reagan wrote to you and asked for your support for the Maryland Republican Party. Today I wanted to return the favor, but Federal Election Commission law says I can't.
"Even though I am the Republican State Chairman for Maryland, it is illegal for me to ask you to vote for our Republican presidential candidate by name." So his letter asked people to vote for "our Republican candidates for president and vice president -- even though the law says I can't mention their names. I am allowed, however, to urge you to vote for Sen. Mac Mathias and Newton Steers."
George K. Lucey of Silver Spring received that letter from Levey and forwarded it to me. I suppose a good reporter would have tried to find out why Levey wasn't allowed to urge the election of Reagan by name but could mention Mac's and Newt's names.
I'm afraid I'm a bad reporter. I didn't ask. I was afraid somebody would offer an explanation that would sound plausible.