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Headlines not intended for the light of day

Obama_biden A few online sites over the last few days have discovered stories that The Times never published in print or online.

These were articles written ahead of time, as happens on those rare occasions when news could go one of several very specific ways.

Just after 10 p.m. Aug. 22, The Times posted the news that Barack Obama, the Democratic Party nominee to be, had picked Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate. As that article had it, "The news broke after a full day of intense media speculation that included stakeouts at the homes of the top three contenders." The two other candidates being referred to were Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. Times editors had done what they could to be prepared in case Obama went in either of those directions.

Enter the world of search engines. As a result of those automated animals that comb the Internet for new news, at least one website boasted a world of other L.A. Times headlines that seemed to indicate a hypothetical universe in which Obama had picked someone else -- Rep. Chet Edwards or Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton or Gov. Kathleen Sebelius or Gov. Bill Richardson.

Dan Gaines, managing editor for operations for latimes.com, explained the problem in an e-mail note: "Because of a technical glitch, these stories were placed on a server that could be indexed by search engines and were live on the Web for a few hours on Saturday. The stories were never featured on latimes.com, but a few bloggers found the stories in search. We know how it happened and have fixed the problem."

Notes National Editor Scott Kraft, "It is probably somewhat surprising to readers that we often do advance stories on things that haven't happened and might not happen. Why? The simple reason is that we want to give readers the most thorough story possible -- and as fast as possible.

"We do advance obituaries on major figures because, after all, they will one day die and we want to have the most complete, nuanced story possible -- the kind of story of a person's life that cannot be written on deadline ... "

".... or even in a single day. But we also -- though much less frequently -- will write prospective stories -- on the outcome of a major vote, for example, or on a vice presidential selection. One reason is so we'll be able to have the quickest, most complete story on the Web. The same holds true for the paper, especially if, as happened last Friday, we confirmed the name of the vice presidential selection late, right on deadline. Had we not had a story prepared in advance, the readers of Saturday's paper would have had a one- or two-paragraph story rather than the full and thorough story that we were able to provide."

(At least one website assumed that the Times editors had posted it on purpose.)

The Biden story was the one that eventually got updated, edited and published, and the others normally would have -- and should have -- been deleted instantly from the computer system. Says Gaines, "The age of instant publishing has increased the risk of stories going out due to technical problems, so we’ve revisited our procedures for preventing such incidents."

Photo above of Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden Jr. in Springfield Ill., during their first public appearance together as campaign partners. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

 
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