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Linkmeister

Quite a guy. My aunt and uncle published The Copper News, a weekly covering the Bisbee/Prescott/Bagdad region of Arizona, but they didn't come close to that sort of intimacy with the community. (For one thing, they each had day jobs.)

I remember trips to the printer in Phoenix to pick up the paper; we'd bring it back home to the house, lay plastic over the dining room table, and start attaching mailing labels to each copy.

The paper died when they could no longer physically publish it, and even the Arizona Newspaper Association (or whatever it's called) couldn't help me when I asked what they knew of it. I wish I'd been around them more and talked about its history. Small-town papers are a breed apart.

Nance

Thanks, Lance. Here's an e-mail I received recently from another ex-reporter. I'll fudge the details to preserve her privacy, but I think she gets it just about right:

Last night, a large contingent of State House journalists gathered for one of our most irregular reunion dinners. Anyone who did time in the (paper's) State House bureau gets invited, whether it was one session (such as me) or the record of, IIRC, 15. The AP reporter is covering his 42nd session, so no one comes close.

At any rate, one old friend said, "Remember the day you screamed into the phone, 'Grow some balls, Mr. (Editor)'" to our editor at the time. (Also at the reunion.) I didn't, but I didn't doubt I said it. I also don't doubt that it's been about 14 years since any one has spoken that way to any one in management. But it was very common at the time. We yelled, we screamed, but it was all about what was or wasn't on the page, in the story. It was never personal.

So here's my theory: As editors broke their own employees down in the 90s, insisting on decorum and respect in the newsroom, a more corporate environment, they broke them down outside the newsroom. And then, just as the press corps was about as namby-pamby as it could get, Bush got elected. And newspapers failed to do their job and became increasingly irrelevant to people's lives.

Reporters need to go back to screaming at their bosses.

Rasselas

Plenty of smokers and sots are craven, toadying lickspittles to their bosses or to others in authority. Like presidents and other people with offices in big buildings.

I am weary of the fetishization of the drunk, yellow-fingered journalist. In no other profession or trade is self-indulgence thought a mark of integrity, honorability or courage. Alcoholics and smokers are addicts, and addicts may be picturesque, but are generally pitiable and unreliable, and can be dangerous.

I can think of a contemporary journalist who drinks, and drinks, and drinks, and drinks, and smokes, and drinks, and drinks, and drinks, and makes an obnoxious point of both, as though his indulgences made him something other than contemptible, and flatters himself that defying rules about breathing poisonous smoke onto innocent bystanders requires courage, rather than obnoxious selfishness. Perhaps there are or ought to be different rules for people who can grind out a few thousand words making up some portmanteau word for the latest excuse for killing foreigners, but should aspiring journalists imitate Christopher Hitchens?

The Editors

Dear Mr Rasselas,

It is not the policy of the editors of the Mannionville Daily Bugle to comment on our reporters' relationship with their sources. Therefore we can neither confirm nor deny that Christopher Hitchens is one of Mr Mannion's bitter, sozzled sources for this post. Mr Mannion has asked us to make clear that his own opinion of newspaper people is not expressed until the 10th graf of the post, which begins, "I love newspaper people." Mr Mannion states further that he means newspaper people in the present, including gym-going, salad eating, anti-smokers who do not curse, swear, blaspheme, gargle whiskey, or wear snapbrim hats while on the job.

Jeremy

I'm partly with The Editors, having sat through the total tedium of Factotum recently.

On the other hand, IBM Selectrics???? Wusses! When I were a lad we used to pound out our stories on real typewriters, ones that responded to a good pounding.

velvet goldmine

Damn you, Lance! I'm nostalgic enough about the biz this week because I'm leaving soon and my likely replacement is an intern who keeps asking me J-school questions like, "Does [boozy editor] frown on one-source stories?" and "How many words should the school board story be?"

All reasonable questions, but somehow beside the point, at least for small-town papers, as Nancy captured so well. (Barbieri managed a daily, but I still found a lot of parallels to my own weekly).

I printed out her appreciation for my editor last week, thinking he'd likely get a kick out of it too. I can't tell you whether he liked it though; he's in the middle of a bender.

One of the things about weekly papers, which are sort of the redheaded stepchildren of the industry, is that the newsroom atmosphere remains eerily locked in the past. There just isn't money for the latest sanitized technology. This, of course, is a subject we bitch about endlessly, but it certainly has its comforts. I work in a fairly seedy storefront office, but that means we're all free to let our eccentricities -- as well as the inevitable f-bombs -- fly.

I do have a digital camera, true, but it's a hand me down once dropped on the street by previously mentioned editor. Every time I change the batteries, I have to apply a fresh strip of duct tape to keep the compartment shut. This does not look good at press conferences.

While the pay stinks and every reporter is aware that even the most deathless prose will nonetheless be dead by the next issue, there is something about having the sportswriter come in to talk about his epic fishing trip, and then getting a call from the school official who was just busted for a crack bender/fake kidnapping story, that keeps things interesting. It's all about the gossip.

As Nance said in her piece, I could go on and on -- and in her case, that's always a good thing. I will say that, speaking of old school journalism, this is the one story I wish I could have been around to cover:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_Molasses_Disaster

Rasselas

Sorry. I like to play Toshiro Mifune to nostalgia's Tatsuya Nakadai when I can.

(The reference is to the duel at the end of Kurosawa's Sanjuro, for those who didn't recognize the second name.)

The Editors

Dear Mr Rasselas,

The editors wish it to be known that it is company policy to stand in awe of any reader who can work a reference to Toshiro Mifune into a comment.

Rasselas

No comment can contain Mifune. It is Mifune who contains all comments.

Anne Laurie

Lance, I can't wait to hear your opinions on THE TRUTH, wherein journalism is invented in Ankh-Morpork, more or less accidentally and not at all with the sort of results that would be expected in a logical universe (thus replicating our own "real world" nicely). I'm only sad that Heath Ledger is getting too old to play William de Worde, with Michael Caine as his father, lord of a noble family whose official motto is "le mote juste" and whose working motto is "A lie can run around the world before the truth can get its boots on." Pratchett spent part of his career as a working journalist, of course, and like all fine writers ruthlessly re-works his actual experience to great effect.

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