What Is A “Cable-News Lobster Shift”?


I think I know a fair amount about lobsters given that James grew up in Maine.  I know that the only real way to eat them is steamed with tons of butter.  And I know the best napkin for such occasions is a dish towel, and at times a hammer might even be required for the dinner table. 

But when I read today in a column concerning the pundits and reporters covering the Democratic presidential nomination, which included a phrase about the “cable-news lobster shift ” of late night election coverage, I was perplexed.  Even James was unsure what the writer meant.

The tone of finality could be heard on the cable-news lobster shift that is now a regular feature of late election nights. “I think there’s an increasing presumption tonight that Obama’s going to be the nominee,” Chris Wallace, the Fox News host, said to Karl Rove, President Bush’s longtime political guru, who is now a Fox analyst. David Gergen, an adviser to several presidents, including Bill Clinton, said on CNN after 1 a.m., “I think the Clinton people know the game is almost up.”

So I toss this question out to my growing readership, who I view as savvy and smart.  What is a  lobster shift?  And why is it so named?

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3 thoughts on “What Is A “Cable-News Lobster Shift”?

  1. anna

    I love your blog and since you inform me so often this is my time to give back. Knowing your love for papers this will make you smile I hope.

    Most authorities agree that the “graveyard shift” took its name from the spookiness of working the “ghostly” hours after midnight, perhaps in a nearly deserted factory with only a “skeletal” crew on duty. “Graveyard shift” dates from the early years of the 20th century, and the same hours are also often called the “lobster shift” or “lobster trick.”

    Where “lobster shift” came from is the subject of a number of theories, most of which revolve around the newspaper business in the 1890’s. One legend has it that New York City newspapermen on the graveyard shift often stopped at seafood restaurants for dinner on the way to work. Another, less complimentary, legend alleges that newspapermen on the late shift were habitual drunkards. Supposedly it was their bright red faces, resembling boiled lobsters, that gave the shift its name. As slanderous to the news profession as that story might be, the most likely contender for the true origin may be worse. At the beginning of the 20th century, “lobster” was a popular term of derision, meaning “sucker” or “fool.” Any newsman who found himself snookered into working in the wee hours was likely to earn the title of “lobster” from his day-shift counterparts.

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