Monday, October 8, 2012

Universal Truths of the Newsroom

I'm closing in on my first full year working for the Pottstown Mercury, my first full year in the same newsroom, if you don't count the "newsroom" for my high school paper (an under-used computer room branching off from the school library).

As is a theme among many of my posts here, I've been learning a lot of things about the business. I've learned a lot of practical things, a lot of useful things.

But the things I've learned and place the most stock in are The Universal Truths of the Newsroom.

They're second only to The Ten Commandments but just as serious.

I'll run through a few of those.

1. Somebody else's soup or Italian food they just heated up in the microwave smells like it will taste infinitely better than whatever you have for lunch.

I thought I was all set one day because I had minestrone soup (so I had both the soup and the Italian angle covered), then one of the sports guys heated up his meatball sub. Game over.

2. Your phone only rings with the info you've been waiting ALL DAY FOR when you are at the point furthest from your desk in the newsroom.

More than a few times, I've gone all the way up to my editor's desk to talk to her just to make my phone ring. It works almost every time. I'm considering annexing a spot by the coat rack down past sports land in photo's territory so I can make a nice, comfortable nest to wait in for my phone to ring off the hook with every story I've ever wanted to cover in my life.

3. The stories you and your colleagues in the newsroom find funny are strange and disturbing to all others.

I first got an inkling of this when I told my parents a story from my intern days in Delco that culminated with a burning body. At dinner. In public. No one laughed.

4. The story that will surely win you a Pulitzer will pass like dust in the wind. The story you don't give a second thought to will be your legacy forever and ever. 

I did a three part series on a non-profit and a two-part series on the tug-of-war struggles for students and funding between public and charter schools over the past year that I poured more blood, sweat and arthritis-inducing keyboard pounding into than anything in my life. Both of those series came and went.

My editor pitched me a story, casually, via email, of a child with a genetic skin condition recently, to which I replied, "Sure, why not?"

That story ended up turning into three articles, netted me about a dozen phone calls, more emails, and Anderson Cooper eventually picked it up for his morning talk show.

CNN passed on my charter schools story, last I heard.

5. A lot of people you deal with won't like you. There's nothing you can do about it, so you might as well enjoy it.

A colleague recently told me about an official that specifically said they don't like me.

My reaction went something like, "Haha, no way!"