Los Angeles Times coverage of Pres. Kennedy assassination
Los Angeles Times front pages for Nov. 22, 1963, left, and Nov. 25, 1963. Credit: Los Angeles Times.
Los Angeles Times newsroom at 11:35 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963. A copy of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner with “KENNEDY SLAIN” headline is visible. The scene is the city room of The Times. The editors are talking over makeup for the Preview edition. Clustered around news editor’s Mort Helm’s desk as he ponders one of the thousands of questions asked that bitter day are: Night Managing Editor Frank Haven, Assistant Managing Editor Len Riblett, Day Managing Editor Frank McCullough and Assistant News Editor Hal Reid. In the background left to right: Gene Sherman, Dorothy Townsend (on phone), Mary Lou Loper (at typewriter), City Editor H. (Hank) Durant Osborne. Credit: Los Angeles Times
This article in the December 1963 Times-Mirror employee publication Among Ourselves reported on the newspaper’s coverage of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
Praise for everyone involved in the coverage of the assassination of President Kennedy Nov. 22 was forthcoming from Times readers throughout Southern California, from publisher Otis Chandler and fellow employees throughout Times Mirror Square.
As soon as the first word of the shooting was received, the Editorial, Production and Circulation Departments were alerted.
It was too early (approximately 10:30 a.m.) to start running the Saturday Preview edition, so it was decided to replate pages 1 and 3 of Friday’s final. (To provide for such an eventuality, at least one press is always left standing until the next edition is ready to go.)
While copy and art for the first extra was making its way through editorial, engraving, composing and stereotype, the presses were already running, printing the Family and Classified sections, which were not changed.
Off-Duty Employees Report
Meanwhile, off-duty employees who had heard the news called in to see if they were needed, or in many cases came in without a call. Some of these were told to report later in the day; for others, it was their day off, and in some instances, the employees were on vacation.
As details came over the wire, Executive News Editor Mort Helm and National Editor Ted Weegar were in almost constant conference with Editor Nick Williams, Managing Editor Frank Haven and others. Otis Chandler was in Palo Alto attending a Stanford reunion, but returned on the first available flight.
Oddly, Williams has just returned from Dallas, where he had made a speech in the area the night before. He left Texas a few hours before the tragedy and heard the news as he was on his way downtown from the airport.
The city room went to work covering local stories, particularly reviewing the events surrounding President Kennedy’s nomination at the Sports Arena in 1960. Special writers Gene Sherman and Art Ryon, as well as members of the Family Section staff, were put to work getting quotes from civic leaders, writing sidebars or on rewrite.
James Bassett, director of the editorial pages, prepared for later editions a Page 1 editorial which subsequently was quoted in many newspapers and national newspapers. Art Seidenbaum wrote an editorial-type column for the Preview which ran in all editions and was reprinted in Sunday editions after numerous requests.
The Preview edition was moved up from its normal 4 p.m. starter to 2 o’clock.
Washington Bureau chief Robert J. Donovan was with the Kennedy party in Dallas, so The Times was able to stay on top of developments in Dallas from the beginning. Before the day was over, Donovan was joined by Robert Thompson from the Washington Bureau and Gene Blake from here.
The balance of the Washington staff covered the capital from every angle; Lou Fleming had a story in from the United Nations in short order, and the foreign correspondents reported on reaction around the world.
Business & Finance staffers told the story from the financial world, and Sports editor Paul Zimmerman reported on the impact the event had on the sports scene.
Job classifications meant little in the production areas. Stereo superintendent Jim Lloyd was packing mats, presses were being lined up by whomever was available, often, in the early stages, with short crews, and the circulation office staff was helping load trucks.
Dealers and street sales personnel immediately converged on the concourse, and Times security guards were pressed into service as traffic officers to get trucks on and off Spring Street.
Display and ad alley were not without their problems. With business closed down almost completely on the Monday of Mr. Kennedy’s funeral, great numbers of ads were either pulled or revised as the last moment.
Proofs of other ads, scheduled to run later in the week, could not be delivered to the advertiser for approval on Monday. This posed a particular problem as the Thanksgiving Day edition normally is the largest weekday edition of the year, and many advertising section are run early in the week.
Sunday, although the news file was heavy, operations were routine until the sudden shooting of Lee Oswald. Everyone was working toward a 4 p.m. press starter.
Again, schedules were moved up and everything done to get Monday Preview on the streets as early as possible. Start time was advanced to noon, and production crews again had to be called in early.
Dealers started moving toward The Times almost as soon as they received word of the shooting. As the concourse filled with pickup trucks from as far away as Riverside, others were forced to wait their turn on the street. For a considerable time, the line of trucks extended completely around Times Mirror Square, and company guards once more were asked to direct the traffic.
Both Thompson and Blake were still in Dallas, covering developments, and both were at Dallas City Jail watching the transfer of Oswald when he was shot. Consequently, Times readers got as comprehensive a story as was possible.
Letter From Chandler
In a letter to all Times employees, written before the close of the tragic day, Otis Chandler said, “We in the newspaper business have a heavy responsibility to disseminate the news as rapidly as possible. This responsibility was immediately recognized today in all departments as soon as the news came through…Your loyalty, dedicated efforts and outstanding performances in meeting today’s challenge is sincerely appreciated.”
Managing Editor Frank Haven couldn’t say enough good things about the efforts of the editorial staff, as well as the production and circulation crews.
“It’s a cliche, I know,” he said, “but teamwork is the only description you can apply to the operation. Everyone seemed to sense immediately what had to be done, and who was going to do that. There was an absolute minimum of confusion, which is most unusual in such a situation.
“This was probably the biggest single story in the lifetime of most of our people, and they rose to the occasion to handle it superbly.”
Production manager Charlie Chase, too, paid high compliment to the entire production staff.
“I am extremely proud of the performance of all the people in all our departments,” he said. “They gave the maximum effort, doing the job that had to be done, whether it was part of their regular assignment or not.”
Circulation manager Jack Underwood reported that sales for the weekend were approximately 360,000 above the average for a similar period.
An extra 314 tons of newsprint were used.
For more 1963 Los Angeles Times coverage of the President Kennedy assassination, check out these pages of the Nov. 23, 1963 Los Angeles Times.
[For the record, 3:29 p.m. Nov. 23: A previous version of this post identified the paper with the “KENNEDY SLAIN” headline as the Los Angeles Times first extra. In fact, it was the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner.]
November 22, 2013, 1:32 pm
Are you absolutely sure there was an LA Times that said "Kennedy Slain?"
If you are referring to the paper in the picture…that is a Herald-Examiner.
November 22, 2013, 1:39 pm
Are you absolutely sure there was an LA Times that said "Kennedy Slain?"
The newspaper in the picture is the 2nd Herald-Examiner Extra…….
November 22, 2013, 7:16 pm
You imply there was an LA Times that said "Kennedy Slain?"
The "Kennedy Slain" (on the desk) is actually the Herald-Examiner's 2nd Extra……
November 23, 2013, 3:16 pm
The newspaper with “Kennedy Slain” is a copy of the Herald-Examiner. The photo and caption mentioning “Kennedy Slain” was from the 1981 Los Angeles Times Centennial exhibit. The error was made then. Matt Ballinger in the L.A. Times Past tumbler blog has posted the Times front pages for Nov. 22, 1963. Two were printed before the news, but the last two editions used the headlines “Kennedy Dead” and “Assassinate Kennedy.”
Thanks for pointing this out.
November 22, 2013, 9:31 pm
Who wrote, "Hail of bullets"? Weren't there 3 shots fired? I would call that an inaccurate overstatement. However in light of the tremendous shock of the moment, I think that can be forgiven.
November 23, 2013, 5:17 am
The US Supreme Court, under Kennedy's presidency, struck down prayer and Bible reading in schools. He that opposes God, him God will oppose. Basically, there is no one left in that family. "The mill of God grinds exceeding slow, but, it grinds exceeding small."
September 6, 2014, 6:57 pm
Can't help but notice how quickly that edition of the Herald-Examiner came out. The caption on this pic says 11:35 am. The news had already been confirmed that the President was dead, but only maybe a little over a half hour before? 11:35 am here would have been 1:35 pm Dallas time, and I believe the news that the President was dead had been announced at 1 pm. That was fast newspaper work!
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