Saturday, January 31, 2009

Newsrooms and Fridays, a volatile mix

Reporters, like most anyone else, look forward to the weekends. It's not that they don't like, or love, their work, but they also have lives outside the newsroom.

So many times, after a busy week and putting in more hours than they are going to get paid for, reporters begin edging their way to the door early on Friday afternoon. Sometimes it is to do "research" or "stop by a source" on the way home, but mostly it is a defense mechanism not to spend your Friday night in the newsroom.

Politicians and governments often wait until late Friday to release bad news. That story gets put up on the wires and the next thing you know there's an editor with that "we need a local angle on this glint-in-their-eye."

If you are in the newsroom, you never want to make eye contact with that glint. What follows next is:

"Could you make a quick phone call and see if "x" will comment on this?" OK, that's easy enough and you get the comment.

Then comes the dreaded: "Why don't you go out and get some random comments on this story?"
It won't work to protest that you have plans because everyone else has already left the newsroom and you are now the bag holder. It's a game of journalism tag and you're it.

Might as well call your wife, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, kids, buddies and whoever else you were planning to spend Friday night with and tell them you'll see them next week because you now have a full blown Saturday story to do and it's 4 p.m. on Friday.

You head to the mall to get reaction, but first you have to explain the story, which no one has even heard yet, to the people you are trying to get a reaction from. After doing that, they may or may not comment and if you are lucky enough to get a comment it may not be pithy enough to satisfy your editor. So the process is repeated over and over until you get enough random comments to qualify as a "local angle."

That is the origin of the motto: "Nothing good every comes from being in the newsroom on a Friday afternoon."

And for an even better description here is a comment from anonymous on yesterday's brief reference to the Friday dilemma:

"The variation I heard was "Nothing good ever comes from being in the newsroom after 2 p.m. on a Friday."

As the reporters slowly melted away, the number of editors didn't, and some fresh ones even came in.

Eventually, there would be one reporter, usually working on a highly complex Sunday story, with three, even four, editors circling.

Their jaws would click-clack open with words like "fast assignment," "quick calls," "updates," "follow ups," "fast page proofs" and "short obits."

Toss in a power-mad copy editor famous for his inane demands and bizarre questions that he insisted be answered (between his long smoke breaks and Web surfing.) Visually, think of a proud but limping zebra surrounded by wall-eyed, slavering hyenas, and you're there."

That is such a perfect description that, one, I know for a fact that this person has, or does, work at the Flint Journal and that I wish I had written it myself.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of that scene in Office Space where Peter tries desperately to shut down his computer and leave before the boss sees him and ask him to come in on the weekend for extra work.