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Early in their shift, in the city room of the Los Angeles edition of a syndicated newspaper, sarcastic, cigar-chomping night city editor Jim Bathgate scolds copy boy Earl Collins, who is a highly decorated Korean War veteran, for a lapse in judgment. While waiting for managing editor Sam Gatlin to return from his weekly pilgrimage to the graves of his first wife and son, the newspaper staff notes the dullness of the incoming stories and then entertain themselves with a betting pool on the outcome of the pregnancy of an Italian movie star. Various staffers fend off calls from a cheating reader who wants to be given the answers to the day's crossword puzzle. As a rainstorm is developing, Sam arrives and is waylaid by press agent and former employee Fred Kendall who wants Sam to print a picture of his current client and romantic interest, agricultural beauty queen Lucille Greghauser, on the newspaper's front page. After arranging for Lady Wilson, a highly regarded, forty-year veteran on his staff, to be given updated news reports of her grandson, an Air Force bomber pilot flying a speed run from Honolulu to New York, Sam meets with his senior staff to discuss which news topics to cover in the upcoming edition. There, he hears about the day's potential headline: a missing three-year-old girl, Dorry, who reportedly has fallen into a storm drain while trying to rescue her pet dog. The story churns up painful memories for Sam, whose own son and first wife were killed by a drunken driver. After the meeting, Peggy, Sam's second wife to whom he has been married three years, makes a rare visit to his office to inform him that the adoption agency has matched them with a little boy. Unable to bear children, Peggy wants the child very much, but Sam is now having second thoughts and his change in attitude causes Peggy to leave in tears. When Jan Price, a society girl whose wealthy father used his influence to get her a newspaper job, begs to be given a chance to prove herself, Sam and Jim send her to interview an alleged strangler who was captured by the police. After reading Jan's completed interview, Sam, noting her superlative work, assigns her to report on the search for Dorry, which has become more harrowing, as rescue teams have been searching rain-filled sewers for hours. Empathizing with the child's parents, Sam torments himself with memories and becomes more determined to resist adoption. Fred returns to show off the attributes of Lucille, and although the sight of the partially bare beauty queen temporarily distracts most of the males in the office, Sam, who is weighed down by other emotions, discovers he feels bored by her. From the weather bureau, Bathgate learns that heavy rain is expected to continue, which poses increasingly more danger to Dorry and the rescue teams as the water level in the storm drains rises several feet. Jan scoops other reporters by getting an interview with Dorry's parents. When she returns to the office, she reports that the girl's situation looks hopeless, despite the valiant attempts of many would-be rescuers. Peggy calls Sam, and tries again unsuccessfully to change his mind about the adoption. After Dorry's dog is found dead, Sam learns from a reporter on the scene that the chief of the Bureau of Public Works is planning to call off the search. Sam orders his onsite reporter to blackmail the chief into continuing the search by mentioning a "blonde secretary" and by saying that Sam will "go after" him in every possible way through his newspaper. Ben Quinn, a copyreader on the senior staff, shows Sam an Associated Press release reporting that Lady's grandson was killed when his plane exploded ten minutes from his destination. Sadly, Sam tells Lady about her grandson's death. When Lady wonders why she has been left behind when so many of her friends and loved ones are gone, Sam says that, despite all that has happened to him, he believes there is a higher power at work. Recalling the night his first wife and son were killed, Lady reminds Sam that he has been given a second chance and that he needs a youngster more than a child needs him. Later, Collins, who is on the telephone with a reporter at the scene, reports to the anxious staff that Dorry has been found but may be dead. The staff silently gathers as he relays the message that the search had been called off, but three men refused to give up and found the child unconscious between a drain pipe and an inspection ladder. When efforts to resuscitate Dorry are successful, the staff returns relieved to their work. After the order comes to "roll the presses," Peggy, who has gone behind Sam's back to complete the adoption formalities, brings the young boy, Billy, to the office. Refusing to see him, Sam admits that he would love Billy on sight and that he never again wants to worry about the welfare of a child. He says he is "too scared to be a father." However, when Billy walks in, looking for Peggy, Sam is instantly smitten and accepts him. The rest of the staff, alone or in groups, leaves for the night.