Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Goodbye to the Newsroom

Here's something I'm working on. TR

Goodbye to the Newsroom

Newspaper newsrooms all look the same – fluorescently lit clusters of cubicles, filled with unstable piles of documents, dirty coffee cups and family snapshots. Except for the computers, you can’t tell the newsroom in “The Wire” from the one in “All the President’s Men.”

Now, these rooms are emptying out to taunts of the on-line comment gallery. Here’s a sample from today’s story on the possible closure of The Boston Globe.

I quit buying the paper because I did not want to support a left wing propaganda machine. When the paper finally dies, I won't read Boston.com. I only read these articles about the death of the Globe because they're fun.

I try to warn my students that some people think of newspapers and reporters as corrupt and clueless. At best, we’re pitifully out of date. One review of “The Wire” mocked the scene where a discarded cop reporter drowns his sorrows while quoting Menken.

I watched that scene and wept.

Hate us for our arrogance. Say good riddance to the ink stains. Wave us off for our lying Mike Barnicles and the crappy job we did on WMDs and the mortgage crisis. We deserve some of it and we’re used to the rest.

But have a little heart for those of us mourning the end of the well-populated daily paper newsroom. If you’ve ever worked in one, you know – you pretty much live there. The day starts out a little slow and a little late. After the morning meeting, the pace rumbles along fueled by coffee, flirtation and procrastination. By about 4, the place winds up for the team effort it takes to turn those blank screens into the next day’s paper. A clicking keyboard rhythm rises as everyone hunches over their computers, gets it done by deadline and hits send.

Then they all go out drinking and have sex with each other and get up the next day and do it again.

Sweetheart deals for mall developers. Lax nursing home regulation. Influence peddling politicians. Rescues on the high seas. Your school board. Swine flu. 9/11. Crashes, murders and lots of sports.

We cranked them out and life went on. Prizes were won; careers were ruined. Romances lead to outbursts, marriages or both. We had bad hair, bad glasses and sometimes, bad prose. We also wrote some great leads. We ate mountains of take-out food. Many a chair was thrown and many a tear was shed. But, every day, as deadline loomed, we got down to it.

Then everyone went out drinking and had sex and got up the next day and did it again.

We loved and hated each as much as any family. The pay stunk and editors, reporters and sources drove each other crazy. Stories were ruined. Everyone was overworked and underpaid. We complained all the time. We had crappy cars and clothes. People fled, failed or got squeezed out.

But, we did some good, wrote some poetry and had some fun – all rolled up into a little bundle you could find outside your door every morning.

Now, the newsrooms are crumbling under staffers’ feet. Everyone is trying to jump beyond the bitterness to safety, be it online, into a new career or toward a quiet life in a garden somewhere.

But, it has been hard letting go.

When a paper I once worked for gouged out a huge chunk of the staff a few weeks ago, a colleague changed her Facebook status to “…grieving.”

Our loss goes beyond the despair of a mid-life career meltdown. The ache extends past all that fourth estate - watchdog role - preserve democracy stuff. For those who spent any time in a newsroom, it is the end of something that defined us.

So, spare me your pontificating about how idiot newspapers let themselves get blind-sided by the Internet. I don’t want to hear how you don’t buy it anymore or never have time to read it.

I’m busy draining the ink from my veins.

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