The Lobster Shift

Covering the news in a city that never sleeps


| January / February 2006


It's a few minutes after midnight when a cab pulls up on West 33rd Street, outside the offices of the New York Daily News, and Veronika Belenkaya emerges. She is just over five feet tall. Her hair is flopped up into a ponytail, and blond bangs hang in front of her eyes.

Veronika is the night reporter at the Daily News. She began working for the paper as an intern during her senior year at Cornell University and continued after she graduated in May 2004. She has been working alone in the newsroom weeknights from midnight to 8 a.m. full time since February 2005, and her first byline as a staff writer ran in April.

The newsroom is quiet. A few copy editors put the final touches on the next day's paper, and a couple of reporters sit at their desks on the other side of the room. Jill Coffey, an editor, calls Veronika over. Six people have died in a car crash in the Catskills, and the Daily News was late on the story. She thinks one of the victims was a Brooklyn teenager. She knows, from an article in The New York Times, that they were Russian.

Veronika moved to Brooklyn from Ukraine with her family in 1994. When she calls the Russian family now, she speaks in their native tongue. It is 1 a.m.

'That's my brother. I ain't got shit to say. He's dead,' the man says brusquely before hanging up.

At 2:30 the paper goes to bed, and with it go the remaining copy editors. Veronika and I sit browsing the news wire on the computer, watching the four televisions within view from her desk and listening to three police scanners. For the next six hours, all we do is wait. This is life on the lobster shift, as the beat is called -- long stretches of waiting punctuated by intense calls to action.