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"American Idol" updates

May 9, 2008 |  3:22 pm

American_idol1 "The surprising and unlikely 'American Idol' journey of Jason Castro ended Wednesday night in a week that saw nearly 51 million votes cast on television's most popular show," was the opening line to the story that appeared in Thursday's Times.

Several readers wanted to know more about the popular show than merely who won or lost, though: They wanted to know why the story appeared in the California section, not in Calendar, where stories about TV shows typically appear. As Scott Landsbaum of Beverly Hills put it, "Surely there must have been something more important or uplifting that you could have featured."

Calendar's early deadline is the reason feature stories sometimes appear in unexpected places, or at unexpected times; Calendar is printed by 3 p.m. As the "American Idol" competition comes to a finale, editors see it as breaking news. That means that coverage of Wednesday night's show had to be printed in another section.

Calendar publishes "American Idol" stories on an ongoing basis, including the columns Show Tracker by reporter Richard Rushfield and Idol Banter by music critic Ann Powers. And in fact, those readers who looked in Calendar this past Thursday to find the results would have seen an Idol Tracker column, written in advance of the Wednesday night competition.

But with the finale coming in two weeks, editors want results published in print sooner rather than later. That is why the short item on May 1 about Brooke White's being booted from the show also ran in California, and that's why one more story about the end of this season's contest will run in that section. After that piece, says Betsy Sharkey, the editor in Calendar who oversees the entertainment coverage, comes the finale. For that May 21 show, there will be full coverage -- a large story by reporter Rushfield, as well as a critic's piece by Powers -- so Calendar's deadline will be moved later.

Dictating the deadlines for the various sections is the fact that the presses can run only so many pages at once. That's why Calendar is put together early enough in the day to allow sections with breaking news to be run on the presses later. The May 21 switch in deadline times is rare: Typically, Sunday is the day that Calendar can switch deadlines with another section, the other section being Business, as it is rare for a big Business story to break on a Sunday for Monday's paper. Changing the deadlines on a Wednesday, as will happen for the May 21 finale, will require the other sections to get their stories edited and to the presses earlier.

When articles about events in the late afternoon or evening do end up in Calendar, they run a day later. That's what happened with the review of the Alicia Keys show in Anaheim, which took place Sunday. It was published online by Monday, but printed in the paper in Tuesday's Calendar section.

Calendar Editor Richard Nordwind believes that "American Idol" warrants the changed deadlines and story placement. "For those who wonder about the news importance of 'American Idol' (and we're not talking about the quality of the singing here), remember it has been the highest-rated series on TV for several years, as well as changing the face of pop music -- stars like Carrie Underwood and Chris Daughtry became famous as contestants, and then went on to huge success on their own. So millions care about who gets kicked off and who stays on the final weeks of the show -- and we think readers of the print edition should know the next morning."

Photo of four finalists courtesy of Fox. From left to right: David Archuleta, Syesha Mercado, David Cook and Jason Castro, who was recently voted off the show.