Posts tagged: newspapering
Long ago and far away, I got assigned a story about a controversy at a local Catholic church.
It seems so innocent now.
It all started or at least came to a head when, during a Sunday sermon, a priest got annoyed about a crying baby.
Finally, the cleric said, “Will someone stick a banana down that kid's throat.”
The infant's parents did not care for that. And soon accusations were flying that the priest had a drinking problem.
Parishioners wanted him out. The diocese said, essentially, “Yeah, right.”
I can't recall how many stories I wrote about this. Not many. But at some point, I started describing the priest in print as “embattled.”
And so some of my colleagues began asking, “So what's the latest on the embattled Father Curry?”
I can't recall how it played out. But I just did an online search and saw that he died last year. There was no mention of the banana incident in the obit.
Ask a colleague if he or she would like to see an entertainingly splenetic piece of hate mail and the answer will always be “Yes.”
One day, when I was a general assignments reporter at the morning paper in Tucson, one of the assistant city editors asked me to check something out.
It seems someone was targeting a home with a very specific sort of vandalism, if you could call it that.
The unknown culprit was partially filling paper grocery bags with dog droppings and setting the bags ablaze on someone's porch. I can't remember if it had happened more than once.
Was this retribution for dog-walking crimes committed by the targeted homeowner?
Some dumb kids being dumb kids?
Some sort of neighborhood feud?
Or worse, did it have something to do with racial or ethnic resentments?
The editor didn't really know. And I seem to recall he was aware that this might not be much of a story.
Anyway, I was about to leave the newsroom and drive over to the scene of the incident. But by this time, the editor had started a conversation about having a photographer meet me there.
And our new Photo/Visuals editor, a guy named Chuck Freestone who had come to us from the Seattle P-I, was putting his foot down.
This was a Thursday, and he didn't think a Metro-front report about bags of flaming dog waste was something we wanted to greet our readers with on Good Friday morning.
So the upshot was that we wouldn't be doing the story. I think Chuck and the assistant city editor got into it a bit, but only one thing mattered to me.
I was off the hook.
I once sat near a young woman who started seemingly every work shift by fighting with her ex-husband on the phone.
It might seem like playful sword-fights with pica poles would simply be jocular good fun.
But the truth is, this pre-computers brand of newsroom humor nicked up the edges of the metal measuring devices and made them all but useless as tools designed to slide smoothly over layout dummies.
There once was a man who used to park himself by the wall of mail slots and go through co-workers' mail when others were not around. If something was not in a sealed envelope, he would read it.
Several people in his department were on to him. So they set a trap.
I'd love to go into detail, but it's not really my story to tell.
Years ago, there was an editor and a reporter who loathed one another.
I don't know if he was trying to run her off. But he made it amply clear that he was not satisfied with her work. Over and over. And not in private.
For her part, she did nothing to conceal her disdain for this guy, who was her section editor.
I was not friends with either of them. But there was one thing the editor did that made me side with the reporter.
She would be writing a story and he would come up behind her and look over her shoulder at her computer screen. Now that's not really a big deal. It happens. But it was how he did it that made a lasting impression.
He would lean over her back and practically put his chin on her shoulder. It almost looked obscene.
It wasn't really physical intimidation. She could have kicked his ass.
But the face he would make as he read her story suggested that he was experiencing severe gastro-intestinal distress. It was something to see.
Even before he opened his mouth, everyone nearby knew he was not about to say “That looks good.”
Modern era reporters and editors are supposed to welcome feedback from readers.
Well, at least tolerate it.
That hasn't always been a deeply ingrained newsroom value.
Years ago, I worked with a reporter who didn't have much patience with readers who phoned him to talk about a story he had written. So, regardless of what time it was, he often cut the conversation short with what became his trademark phrase.
“I'm on deadline. Gotta go.”
If it was 10:33 a.m. …
“I'm on deadline. Gotta go.”
If it was 5:04 p.m. …
“I'm on deadline. Gotta go.”
To tell the truth, I don't think any of his colleagues actually regarded this as annoying. But I suspect some of those who called him might not have found it amusing to be summarily dismissed.
Taking stuff out of the newspaper morgue and then not returning it.
I guess anyone else who might want to use those files or materials can just go to hell.
I cannot count the number of pregnant women I've worked with over the years.
It has been a lot.
Virtually all of them have been total professionals during the time they were expecting. In fact, several of my all-time favorite colleagues have been in this co-worker category at one time or another.
But I once sat near a pregnant woman who constantly complained about how much her breasts hurt. Well, not constantly. But she issued mammary bulletins more frequently than any of us within earshot required.
Maybe they really did hurt. I'm sure it is no laughing matter.
But that must have happened to other pregnant newsroom women, too. And they managed to keep it to themselves.
Back when quite a few reporters and editors still sucked on cigarettes in newsrooms, I worked with a smoker who typed from a slouched position.
He looked like he was doing the luge.
At least a couple of times a week, a chunk of smoldering ash would fall onto his shirt without him noticing. A few minutes later, he would realize a small hole was being created in his garment by the embers. Maybe he felt the heat. Anyway, he would erupt in a volcano of profanity as he flailed away at the cigarette ash.
At first, it was sort of funny. And I have no business complaining about off-color language. But after witnessing these performances1,000 times, it started to get old.
I once worked for an editor whose wife would walk through the newsroom and hand out invitations to social gatherings.
The thing is, not everyone received the invites.
It was sort of “One for you…one for you…one for you…NOT YOU…one for you…NOT YOU…”
Call me crazy. But it seemed like bad manners.
An editor I worked with long ago once told me that visiting the men's room just isn't the same after you become someone people lobby about their department's needs and pester about pet projects.
I once worked at a paper where one of the guys in sports saved himself the trouble of learning new co-workers' names by simply addressing everyone — males anyway — as “coach.”
This was a couple of years before “Cheers” was on TV. Or it would have been tempting to break into song: “Albania…Albania…you border on the Adriatic.”
Early in my career, I sat about two desks away from a significantly older reporter who used to shout the name of the person calling him when the individual on the phone was reasonably high-profile.
Of course, the standard for what qualified as high-profile in that particular community was not especially high. Nevertheless, my colleague would yell the caller's name.
Another reporter, a guy just a year or two older than I was, used to do a delightful impression of our colleague's phone antics.
I once worked on the copy desk at a newspaper where several of the reporters were high on self-esteem. This is not unusual.
But one reporter in particular would occasionally do us lowly drudges the huge honor of pulling up a chair after deadline and regaling us with thrilling tales of how he got the story. We were supposed to be a rapt audience. My practice was to get up and go to the restroom.
“Wait, Paul, you'll want to hear this.”
“Uh, I've kinda gotta…”
Anyway, the thing is, the guy was not a terrible reporter. And for all I know he was, gaps in his people skills notwithstanding, an OK human being.
But to paraphrase Woody Allen, he couldn't write a grocery list.
Though I am quite sure he read every word of his stories after they came out in print, he must not have noticed that someone had bludgeoned his unreadable prose into something almost comprehensible. Or maybe he noticed but didn't want to dwell on an uncomfortable reality.
Or perhaps he pictured himself as a throwback to the “Get me rewrite” days when reporters phoned in facts and someone else cobbled together the stories.
In any event, the fact that he couldn't write did not make him modest.
I'm not sure that this really qualifies as “behavior,” as I can think of only one instance.
But if I'm going to keep up with this theme of posts for a while, I probably ought to point the finger at myself now and then. Lord knows, I can be annoying.
When I came to the SR shortly after the Earth's crust cooled, there was a woman working here who had been a reporter in the city where I had held my previous newspaper job. I hadn't really known her. She had worked at the evening paper there while I worked for the morning paper. Though I think she had a stint in Kansas City immediately before coming here.
Anyway, our desks here at the SR were in different parts of the newsroom.
One morning, she phoned me to gently report that one of my former colleagues had died. That was considerate of her.
What wasn't so great was, after thanking her for the info, my sharing with her the fact that I could not stand the recently departed.
“I hated his guts,” was the actual quote.
She seemed a bit taken aback, and I can't say that I blame her.
Funny thing is, the hostility I felt for that guy was a total waste of energy — as it usually is. But I was young and stupid and had yet to learn to shrug and consign wearisome people to the heap of irrelevance.
Sure, the holiday has something to do with it. Spending time with loved ones at Christmas can be swell.
But there's something else.
If you have a story or column in the Dec. 24th paper, there is a chance it contains a mistake.
And that means the resulting correction would run on Christmas Day. Which is not an especially festive feeling.
Let heaven and nature sing.
Now that old-style “society” coverage is a thing of the past in newspapers?
This is a scene from 1957's “Sweet Smell of Success.”
Can you spot Tony Curtis?
You've heard of the copy desk rim? Well, this is a related setup.