Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Fistfights in the Newsroom: More Please!


A fight broke out in the newsroom of the Washington Post a few days ago. It involved two long form feature writers, Henry Allen and Manuel Roig-Franzia. Humorist Gene Weingarten said it was long overdue. Not because there was particularly bad blood between these two writers. Just that newsrooms used to be places where the inhabitants (mostly male) would sort it out from time to time, thus clearing the air and giving the folks something interesting to talk about.

Now newsrooms are hushed places that resemble insurance offices. The rattle of typewriters is gone, replaced by the quiet ergonomically correct computer boards that more sweetly resemble water tinkling in a brook.

Corporate pressures ensure that people behave. Getting fired these days means exile from the community of journalism since no one is hiring. The larger number of women in newsrooms also means that newsroom disputes now rarely end with punches thrown.

The CBC used to have a revolving door for journalists behaving badly. They would be fired for some dispute with a co-worker or a manager, head out the door and into the eager arms of the competition. Six months later, they would usually show up back at the CBC and usually in the same job they left.

The Montreal newsroom was particularly rambunctious, especially among the Radio News types (we TV folk considered ourselves slightly more refined for reasons I can't quite recall).

I do recall one morning a fight broke out in the adjacent radio newsroom. One editor who, shall we say, was somewhat vertically challenged, began arguing with a much taller reporter. It quickly became heated and the tiny perfect editor jumped up on the desk of the reporter, the better to kick him. The newsroom manager, a Ulsterman of indeterminate sobriety, who had a dreadful stutter, raced out of his office to separate them: "B-b-b-b-b-oys...b-b-b-b-boys," he cried as he pulled them apart.

They don't make newsrooms like that anymore.

At NPR the level of civility was much greater. I only witnessed one serious confrontation when a very nice woman in the support staff of the news department developed a serious case of hatred for her supervisor. Nothing would reconcile them.

It ended one day when the lady in question walked in to her supervisor's office and showed her a .357 magnum in her purse. The gun remained in the purse and no shots were fired, thankfully. But I heard a scream, went into the office, saw the gun and called security. She was escorted off the premises in about 5 minutes.

I believe she found another job working in some government department on the other side of Washington, DC.

1 comment:

  1. Can also remember some classic confrontations in the old National newsroom on Jarvis. But some were ugly. I remember when one notorious "writer" of the ENS desk, the early afternoon syndication, made an anti-Semitic comment to a Jewish colleague. A senior editor leapt to her defense only to see this guy put a gun out on the desk.

    Then there was the time I tried to move a veteran reporter out of his office and he told me that this would happen over "his dead body." that nearly resulted in fisticuffs.

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