Quite a piece it has been since I heard those quiet tappings from the keyboards, the telephones, the occasional neighbor talking too loudly to his source, the buzz of CNN on the TV screen, and people pissing me off because they stopped to shoot the shit right behind me as I try to finish a story on deadline. I am talking about the sights, sounds and, yes the emotions, of the daily newspaper newsroom.
Actually, next month it will be six years that I stopped working full-time as a newspaper reporter. I left under what is called a “confidential agreement.” You can draw your own conclusions, but sure as shootin,’ I don’t want to pay back the eight weeks severance I got when I left on that ugly April day.
Over time, though, you see that those feelings you once held so tightly and rightly about how you went about your job and how the means turned out looking differently from the ends sometimes, especially to the readers.
The three local TV stations we had where I worked — we had three TVs in the newsroom and we watched them each night at 6 & 10 — were mediocre small market news operations. Like many small markets I have seen, they always tried to claim their news superiority was more than it really was. Particularly galling, was the phrase several of the news anchors used “”As we first reported.” The trouble I had with the phrase was 99 and 1/2 percent times, the “first reporting” meant that they were first to report it on the air. As to where the story originated, it was almost always something the TV stations stole from the newspapers.
I followed a couple of important stories in that town and market over the seven years I worked for this paper. More often than not, when news broke on these stories, it was I who did the breaking. I fancied myself a better writer than reporter for a number of years until I became really good at the reporting end of it. I am not bragging. It was just a fact that I was an above average reporter who had that “nose for news” and who kept on top of his “stuff.” That is why the TV people would piss me off. I was the one who broke the stories.
These days, since I do little real reporting and I tend to “bury the lead” more than I would like, I often look differently at TV news knowing that — normally — the area’s local daily or strong weekly newspapers supply the TV with their stories. The “pretty boys and girls” put the underpaid newspaper beat reporter’s words into tons of mousse and hairspray. Sorry, I know I am just being mean there. I know a number of local TV reporters who are nice people and very competent. But I also know some who are as worthless as a beer bottle in a gunfight.
To be perfectly honest, the place where I now reside doesn’t have a very good, prominent, daily newspaper. The paper is blessed with a few good reporters/writers, but the old, established daily, suffers from a severe lack of leadership. The best newspaper reporter in the World can only carry a medium-to-small-medium-sized newspaper so far.
Okay, so I bury this way deep. Last night when CNN’s foreign correspondent Nic Robertson reported Quadaffi’s compound was “blowed-up” by a cruise missile or something of the kind, I noticed the visible excitement of his back in the “USSA” anchor T.J. Holmes. Continually, it seems, Holmes would replay the moment when Robertson first reported that Q-daffy’s place went boom and he would not be hesitant to announce we saw it all first on CNN.
As the “Breaking News” went on, I was becoming rather ready to throw a shoe (a flip-flop at least) at the TV set and Mr. Anchor Holmes. But I remembered how I used to hate the TV stations for bragging about their exploits to the point where I finally said — with an editor’s approval — if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.’ When we were the ones who broke a story, we told God and everybody.
All in all, dealing with a medium which stole your stories and claimed those stories were theirs, it came down to just standing up to the local TV thieving bastards. Sorry, most weren’t like that, I only used the term “thieving bastards” first, for effect and secondly, because that’s what a very few were with which we were dealing.
In the end, no honor exists among thieves whether it be pimps, dope dealers, lawyers, Realtors, or reporters. The world is that of the subterranean and you have to dig for it, and “root hog, or die.”