By Harriet P. Gross
Happy New Year!
I feel a little “forward” saying this, because I’m writing what you’re reading now on the sixth day of Hanukkah! So I don’t try to look too far ahead. I don’t want to put down in black and white now anything that might have been disproved by the time the paper those words will appear in makes its own appearance.
This is how the news business has always been: early deadlines are the rule for holiday issues because working hours are shortened for everyone involved, from publishers to printers.
And still, things happen. When I picked up the venerable Parade Magazine (sadly, like almost all other print products, it has cut its physical size and refers its readers to websites for much that it used to spell out on paper; today, I call it the Parade Pamphlet) bundled with my most recent Sunday metro, I read an ill-timed article touting the Christmas Day debut of a controversial film called “The Interview.” I’m sure you know about the controversy, because that film got lots and lots of publicity when reprisal threats against its contents caused filmmakers, distributors and theaters to cave. That was old news before Parade landed on our doorsteps, but early deadlines for writing and printing made change impossible.
When I lived in the Chicago area, I wrote a long newspaper story about the work of the Visiting Nurse Association. To do so, I followed one visiting nurse on her rounds for an entire working day. I took pride in that story — until it was published. Because it was a feature, and features are not time-dependent like news and sports stories, it went into a section of the paper that was printed in advance for later insertion. Problem: the story was printed on a Thursday and delivered to readers the following Sunday, but something had happened in the interim: one of the patients my nurse-guide had visited, and I had photographed, died on the Friday between. There was no way to rewrite the story, and it wasn’t possible to pull it in its entirety.
Things like this are embarrassing but inevitable. In this business, you learn to deal with the embarrassment because of the inevitability. A dead story that appears live in your paper is like the live microphone that dies when someone steps forward to make a major speech before a large crowd. Of course the microphone was tested in advance, and of course it worked perfectly then. But now — nothing. It’s a situation to be dealt with in the best but totally unsatisfactory way possible.
So today I can look back on New Years past because their truth is known. I remember a childhood holiday when my family tried to toast marshmallows in our living room fireplace for the first time. Which was also the last. “Smokey” is not a strong-enough word to describe the aftermath. That fireplace remained decorative only, forever after.
And I remember the first New Year’s Eve I spent with my late husband, just a few weeks after our marriage. Out we went to a fancy restaurant for a fancy fixed-price dinner, without advance inquiry about the menu. First course: choice of a salad — Fred never ate salads — or a fish-based soup — Fred never ate fish. So, would he pass on both, ask for a substitution on a meal advertised as “no substitutes, please,” or choke down something he hated? It was my first chance to see how my new spouse behaved in a crisis (admittedly a minor crisis, but still…). So what did he do? I’ll let you guess! But I will tell you that during the 34 New Years we spent happily together after, I never let him forget that one!
And I will never forget — that, and so many other things. But I don’t try to project, to look farther ahead than to wish you — again — a Happy New Year!