No Mrs. O: Washington Post’s DNC Mishap

Journal-isms: Coverage of the first lady's speech was missing from more than half of print copies.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Neighbors Buttonholed Staffers Over Missing Coverage

My favorite caller of the week was an erudite, sharp-witted woman who said she had been a Post subscriber since 1962,” Ombudsman Patrick B. Pexton wrote Sunday to readers of the Washington Post print edition. “After going through her entire paper on Wednesday morning, she said, ‘I couldn’t believe there wasn’t any mention of Michelle Obama’s speech. I wasn’t quite sure if I remembered it right. I had to check my memory: Didn’t I watch her on television last night?’

“Her memory was fine. Coverage of Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention was indeed missing from 60 percent of Post printed copies that day — no speech story, no photo, no Style commentary on her dress, nothing.

“Also bad, and the source of more complaints, was the absence of a game story in Wednesday’s paper on the Nationals’ 11-5 victory Tuesday night over the Chicago Cubs. The Nats are finally, amazingly, near a playoff berth, and to not have this game covered, when it ended at around 10:30 p.m., sent people over the edge.

“Post reporters said they were buttonholed in front of their homes Wednesday morning by neighbors complaining about the missing game report and speech coverage.

“So what happened on Tuesday night? I’m trying very hard to resist this bag of clichés: It was the mother of all . . . the perfect storm of . . . computer meltdowns.

“. . . It was a problem not with the software but with the communications system that links The Post’s downtown headquarters with its data servers in Tysons Corner; in a sense, The Post’s brain. This data center is what manages the software that allows The Post to publish on the Web and to print the paper.

“Editors and reporters downtown could do nothing on the main computer system, leaving them unable to either receive or work on stories.

“So at 11 p.m. a band of copy editors, designers and information-technology workers gathered up laptops loaded with late-breaking stories and photos and drove the 25 minutes to Tysons. Upon arrival, the only way they could communicate with The Post’s brain was to plug their laptops directly into the servers.