Deadlines Inspire Fiction in Newrooms: Camp VJ

Too many deadlines and not enough time can often lead writers to crack under the pressure. Especially when they desperately need that story!

Think of “Wafer-gate”: the editor of the St. John Telegraph did a little “extra editing” and tweaked a reporter’s story to suggest that the Prime Minister Harper pocketed the host. See: PM gets apology in wafer flap

The editor was fired.

I spoke with Journalist and New Media Guru, Bill Dunphy, who has admitted that deadlines have also pushed him across the line from fact to fiction, when faced with an impossible deadline.

The story goes back to his days as the weekend editor at the Hamilton Spectator. The word arrived from on high, that the paper was going to start publishing a weekly story on the weather — to go above the weather map. One of the most read pages in the paper. Bill was told to “take care of it”.

Of course this was happening, at same time as the big cut backs, and there was not enough staff (with time for another story) especially on the weekends.

It was late Sunday night and nothing was done. So Bill did what any desperate writer would do — he made something up. He invented the weather guy — a fictional character who was a slightly bitter, unemployed ex-weather man who was now stuck writing a “weather column”.

The Weather Guy went on to become one of the most popular columns in the paper. It was moved from the back to page 2.

And Bill wasn’t fired. In fact he lived happily ever after. And today he is still trying to teach writers about the difference between fact and fiction. Check out his suggestions for journalists who are writing for the web: Seven Ways to Write Like a Digital Native.