Longtime visitors to the Red Barn are likely aware that I spent four decades as a newspaper editor – experiences that feed into my latest novel, Hometown News.
It’s meant working nights, holidays, and weekends – rarely on a schedule matching the general public’s. And it’s always meant “working under deadline,” where an internal clock is always racing to finish the task on time (or else!). In addition, it’s also given me some insider looks at the surrounding world itself: having a celebrity standing a dozen feet behind your back is just another regular occurrence. (For the record, they often look quite different than they do on television.) Even as a cub reporter, I saw dead bodies, got inside the county morgue, checked out small plane crashes, met ex-movie stars, faced some stiff competition from the pros on the rival paper. Looking back, I sense how often I was in over my head and wonder how I ever survived.
These experiences have also fed into the Red Barn’s category of Newspaper Traditions, where I’ve written about:
- The best newspaper ever” The glorious final days of the New York Herald Tribune were like no other newspaper. Nothing like fighting hard to the bitter end.
- Chancing Upon a Profession: Glenn Thompson’s influence hit me, among many others, in one medium-sized city. He had a knack for finding talent.
- Hot Type: In the days before phototypesetting and then digital publishing, newspaper production was a highly skilled craft. Here’s an admiration for the long gone masters.
- Living Under Deadline: When your career hangs on meeting deadline after deadline, with no room to spare, you begin to live differently from other people.
- The Art of Writing a Headline: Trying to steer readers to a given news report with just four words can be a real challenge. Take it from a pro.
- Editing Obituaries: Announcing someone’s death and funeral arrangements can be more precarious than you’d imagine. This post, one of the most popular at the Red Barn, became a WordPress Freshly Pressed selection.
- Four Measures: Just what makes “news,” anyone? Here’s one take.
- Police Calls, 10 P.M.: Well, there is some behind-the-scenes banter, even when calling the cops.
- One Phone Call Too Many: And then sometimes the facts get in the way of what looked like a great story.
- Local, Local: How you define “local” news can backfire when it comes to your readers. Especially when it’s boring.
- Bias: Sometimes those who accuse journalists of being biased should first look at themselves in the mirror.
- The Shrinking Page: Like many other products, the newspaper page has been shrinking. It’s about half as wide as it was when I entered the trade.
- The Human Imprint: Not too long ago, the editors and publishers were well-known public figures.
- Objectivity, for Starters: There really were some strict standards and practices.
- Windy City Perspectives: The tower of the Chicago Tribune holds some special memories for me.
- Painful Neutrality: Again, maintaining a discipline of objectivity comes at a personal price.
- Free of the Entourage: David Broder was the best of the breed. I wish I’d said hi.
- End of the Line: One of the last editors who put a personal stamp on a paper was David Burgin. Maybe that’s why he was always getting fired.
- Get Out of the Way: Real reporters are invisible observers. TV’s imitation inserts itself on the story.
- You Read It Here First: Plagiarism has always been a dirty practice. Here are a few examples.
- Reality Check: When it comes to seeing “liberal media,” some people fall off the far right of the world. The one that’s still flat.
- A Logical Conclusion: The more conservative the nation’s editorial pages become, the more circulation declines. Think about that.
- Death in the Afternoon: The newspapers published in the afternoon once had the blockbuster circulation. Here’s why they vanished.
- Beware of Unintended Consequences: There are times embarrassing things slip into print. Lewd expressions, especially.
- Beware of Survey Conclusions: Marketing research can lead to bad choices. It helps to put the findings in perspective before taking action.
- So Much for Romance: And then there was the reporter’s lament as he returned from covering a large singles’ mixer.
I invite you to visit or revisit the postings, especially if you’re new here. And I promise there are more ahead.
While we’re at it, here are some pages from the New York Herald Tribune’s final years, when it established itself in my mind as the most elegant and exciting newspaper ever. (Remember, I was still a teen and a budding journalist.)
Among the Trib’s legacy was New York Magazine, which originated as the Trib’s Sunday glossy magazine. It was classic. And Book Week reflects a time when books were really important, at least in the eyes of the informed public.
Not all of the exciting journalistic action took place in Gotham or Fleet Street or Chicago’s competitive shootouts, though.
Much of the most dedicated and innovative work emerged in small communities in the heartland where a few individuals could make an obvious difference. That’s the story I explore in my latest novel. In some ways, it’s Tom Peters’ Pursuit of Excellence meets Dilbert on steroids. It might even resemble some places you’ve labored.
To find out more about Hometown News or to obtain your own copy, go to my page at Smashwords.com.