A Good Newsroom …
It doesn’t matter if it’s the New York Times, The St. Augustine Record or the Flagler College Gargoyle. As far as I’m concerned, a newsroom is a newsroom is a newsroom.
I’m thinking this because I spent the past week working with the “kids” of the Flagler paper.
They listen to alien music and talk in a strange free-flowing language I can’t seem to understand.
I’ll say it: I think I’m getting old.
But it was a blast (even if they did call me Old Man Magoo.) Sure, no police scanner, AP feeds or people yelling, “I brought pruning sheers if that page isn’t down by six,” but it was the same old thrill.
I always loved newsrooms because you never knew what was going to come your way. And you never knew what was going to be thrown your way.
I’ll tell this little story since I don’t work at the Record anymore, making it a little harder to fire me. One day someone threw a ball in my direction (I swear I was not participating) and it ricocheted off my computer. Now, a ball has 20 million places it can ricochet to, but this one decided to pick a full glass of water. It toppled in a giant flood, and despite the 20 million places it could have spilled to, it drowned my keyboard instead.
I stared in shock expecting sparks to fly. When they didn’t, I turned the keyboard over to drain it and fish fell out. I swapped it with another, left it upside down overnight and was amazed to find the next day it actually worked. To this day I’m sure someone at The Record still wonders why there are high-water marks on the keys.
These are the kinds of things that go on in newsrooms. And I’m hoping to bring more of what I learned over the years at The Record to the Gargoyle.
There are a few criteria (ingredients you might call them) that I think are highly necessary to make a successful newsroom, and some of these have already been mastered:
• Food needs to be ground two floors deep into the rug. It should never be identifiable — not even as liquid or solid. A good newsroom floor should be covered in great stains covering vast sections of the floor.
In slow times, you can use them as ink blot tests, or pretend they’re chalk lines for bodies. “What happened to him that he’s shaped like this?” And if anyone high-up asks, you blame it on someone from the pressroom with ink on his shoes walking through.
“Honestly, I know it looks like pepperoni, but it’s red ink!”
• There should be a map the size of a basketball court on the wall with every street in the county on it. Forget the fact that no reporter dashing out the door to a fire or some breaking news event will ever check the map, and inevitably will call 10 minutes later lost and out of gas.
• There needs to be a stack of newspapers piled up so high (no one claims ownership of the pile, yet it grows higher every day) that it causes the steel supports in the floor to sag so much that chairs roll downhill toward it.
• There must (despite rules strictly forbidding it) be some kind of food source kept in a Tupperware container that (despite the fact it could be either three weeks or 11 years old) everyone eats.
And the Tupperware will never be cleaned, meaning leftover petrified bits hard as marbles get mixed in, chipping teeth and lodging in throats.
• A newsroom should never be clean. It’s a sign that work isn’t getting done. Journalists don’t clean. They wallow in their own slovenliness. Like packrats, they store everything ever given to them for the simple reason that it’s much easier to fill up file drawers with pens, magnets and handfuls of candy than actual files.
• And finally, various projectiles should always be nearby. I learned very little from that spilled glass of water.