‘It’s a newsroom, Henry’

May 26, 2013

blog-horseyBright and sunny this Sunday afternoon on California’s north coast — big weekend in Arcata, a little town just south of us and home to Humboldt State University, with what’s called the Kinetic Grand Championship, a crazy two-day event of homemade/man-propelled motion machines.
See some of the participants at Lost Coast Outpost.

As a steadfast rule over many, many years, I try to avoid holiday-movement within the general-mass public.

(Illustration found here).

Instead, I’ve been trying to build up momentum to finish cleaning my kitchen — chores on the weekend take precedence over about everything else, and so does procrastination.
And to further that concept, I watched ‘The Paper‘ on Netflix — the great fairy-tale, journalism-newsroom movie with Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, and a shitload of other great people, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, among others.
Even Randy Quaid — this before he fell off the deep end, or whatever happened to him.

I’d already seen it many times, but a few years since the last viewing, yet it continues to portray that nice, nostalgic glow of a faraway place in what-I-imagine was a better time. There is indeed a certain comedic camaraderie with people who labor in a newspaper newsroom, a sometimes frantic, crazed, near-insane work-place that always bleeds over into your private life. An occupational hazard.

My first job after the University of Florida’s journalism college was with The Montgomery Advertiser in Montgomery, Alabama, as the entry-level police reporter. Although armed with a degree, real time in a real newsroom is way-different than postulated in college — I had no idea how a reporter really operates.
Despite the daunted OJT aspect, I took to the newsroom like a duck to water and pretty-well flourished, diving with gusto into covering car wrecks, robberies/shootings, police-scanner mayhem, along with the occasional house fire, and sometimes on-scene reporting of weather stories thrown into the mix.
Of course, in acquiring this gusto, my life revolved around the newsroom — my girlfriend at the time was a reporter for the Advertiser‘s the-then sister afternoon newspaper, The Alabama Journal (which ceased publication in 1993 with a merger with the morning Advertiser), and my best friend at the time was one of the paper’s many photographers — so nothing happened in my personal circle that didn’t include some offshoot from the newsroom.
And the hair-brained people who populated it. People with peculiar views, odd behaviors, and a squinty-eyed, cynical notion to everything, and great humor.
After a couple of years covering the cop shop, and when a slot opened, I moved over to reporting on the legal system — state, county and federal courts and all the bullshit surrounding them. And like that before-mentioned duck, I eventually also became the Advertiser‘s chief investigative reporter, having somehow acquired the ability to find out stuff and get it into print.
In a crony-heavy, graft-weighted George Wallace Alabama, there was a shitload of shit.
Along the way, I became involved in reporting on a major scandal — called by the Washington Post, ‘Alabama’s Watergate‘ — and scooping local federal jurist Frank M. Johnson Jr. as President Carter’s nominee for FBI director. Johnson later declined the position due to health — a hernia.

In the mid-1970s, the Advertiser was decent-sized, what I’d call a second-tier newspaper for journalists, first in our sphere being the likes of the Atlanta Constitution, or the Miami Herald, and then onward and outward to the heavyweights like the Washington Post, the New York Times, etc.
Yes, the Washington Post — not like the Post nowadays.
The Advertiser covered south/southeastern Alabama, and was a major state newspaper of record, and being in the capitol, Montgomery, gave the paper’s impact more significance. A big-sized newsroom, too, held both Advertiser and Journal reporters — covered about half a city block, I’d guess. And the entire newspaper building was a whole block, and then some. Also included were the printing facilities in the basement — the big rolling presses familiar to everybody.
Sometimes, if I paid quiet attention while sitting at my desk way-upstairs, the slight tremble of the environment could be detected, indicating a press run.
And upstairs in that newsroom, there was usually always something taking loud attention, especially in the late afternoon, early and late evenings of any morning paper — an AM — and the buzz would encompass the head, as the other beat reporters arrived to hash-out their stories, make last-minute phone calls, whatever, and then start pounding the old IBM Selects. As a cop reporter, I worked what’s usually called the swing shift, four in the afternoon til one in the morning, and was in and out of the newsroom all night.
Due to my hours, I got to know the newsroom ‘crew’ (other than reporters/writers) and their late-night craziness fairly well — three people on the horseshoe-shaped copy desk (one, a dwarf/midget I started bumming cigarettes off all the time, really started the freakin’ habit right there), the news editor inside the horseshoe, and various other sundry characters I can’t remember specifically after all these years.
Truthfully, I can’t remember much in detail, other than all us reporters were young, mid-to-late 20s, pretty enthusiastic about work, and one maybe-unique thing, we called each other by our last names, even though we all knew each other outside the newsroom. And we also felt like it was neat to be a journalist, at least back in them days — we were still in the early, wonderful throes of occupation-romance due to the notorious Woodward/Bernstein effect, the cumulative outburst coming via ‘All The President’s Men,’ which came out in 1976.
Truly, I fancied myself as Dustin Hoffman playing Carl Bernstein, right down to chain-smoking Marlboro’s, and always having something to say about whatever.

Long ago, far, far away.

I got out of journalism for nearly 20 years, did all kinds of other neat things, and upon my return to a newsroom in the late 1990s, I was floored by the change — now it’s not just journalism, but some one-off financial institution. And the newsrooms have way-shrunk, too, down to just a small room or two.
Those few years in that big newsroom long ago was indeed neat — at least I had a chance to experience it. Newspaper newsrooms are a dying landscape.
Print media appears to be dying: Rapidly declining advertising revenues continue to be the industry’s core problem. The losses in 2011 were slightly worse than those of 2010 – 7.3 percent compared to 6.3 percent. Ad revenues are now less than half what they were in 2006.
In 2008 alone, 15,554 (a conservative total) newspaper jobs were cut, and although the economy has somewhat picked up since then, the return to the days of yore in the newsroom ain’t gonna happen. In fact, the opposite is occurring:

Recently Forbes came out with its Best and Worst Jobs list for 2013.
Thanks to ever-shrinking newsrooms, dwindling budgets and competition from online news organizations, newspaper reporter was ranked as the nation’s single worst job for 2013.
In fact, Forbes listed being a newspaper reporter as a worse job than garbage collector, lumberjack and oil rig worker.
The profession has been ranked among the worst jobs for many years now, due to low pay, high levels of stress from working under deadlines, a poor hiring outlook and the requirement for many positions to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In the last decade, thousands of newspaper reporter positions have been eliminated.
In fact, the job now actually has a negative growth outlook, meaning there will be fewer newspaper reporters in the future.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates that the number of traditional print newspapers reporter jobs will decline 6 percent by 2020.

If you’re smart, you figure out something. In the age of slim-down journalism, this via CT.com  in Hartford, Connecticut:

Jon Campbell, who briefly made Hartford a more interesting place with his presence and reporting for the Advocate, has entered the homebrew game with his signature Unemployed Reporter Porter (pictured).
“Porter style beers were first popularized in the nineteenth century by merchant sailors and manual dock laborers,” the label reads.
“Unemployed Reporter is crafted in the same tradition, honoring a profession likewise doomed to decline and irrelevance.”
For this new class of “expendables,” the label goes on, “we’ve included chocolate and roasted barley malts that are as dark and bitter as the future of American journalism, and a high alcohol content designed to numb the pain of a slow, inexorable march toward obsolescence.
While Unemployed Reporter is especially delicious as a breakfast beer, it’s still smooth enough to be enjoyed all day, every day. And let’s be honest: what else do you have going on?”
URP’s government warning label even manages to squeeze in a few choice digs at the industry: “(1) The Surgeon General says women shouldn’t drink alcohol during pregnancy, but between Gawker and the Huffington Post, hasn’t the act of procreation itself become a moral liability?
(2) Drinking alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car, but it’s not like you have to wake up and drive to work tomorrow so fuck it.”

And there’s a couple of photos at that link depicting the jobless-reporter porter bottle and the art on the label: A guy at a typewriter, face in his hands — an image of obvious anguish.

Even in ‘The Paper,’ Metro Editor Henry Hackett is at wits end with the long hours and low pay, and titters with moving uptown to more income and a chance to “…cover the world.”
In the movie, however, unlike real life, all the points are cheerfully mended by the time end credits hit the screen.
Henry does himself good, however, with some of the best payoff-lines in cinema: Really? Well guess fucking what? I don’t really fucking care. You wanna know fucking why? Because I don’t fucking live in the fucking world! I live in fucking New York City! So go fuck yourself!

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