What ‘Spotlight’ got right: The morgue

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The Academy Award-winning film “Spotlight” has been rightly praised for its authentic representation of newsrooms and newspaper culture. Earlier, I wrote about how starting the first newspaper scene with a gathering around newsroom cake was a smart move.

Another spot-on part of “Spotlight”: The newsroom library.

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The Boston Globe reporters and librarians dug through decades of old clips to shed light on the persistent and under-reported abuses within the Catholic church. Forgotten stories and dusty church directories helped them weave together the complicated and previously unconnected truths that so many had tried to keep hidden.

I vividly remember walking down the basement stairs to the library of the first newspaper where I worked full-time. My editor must have told me to check a clip file in the morgue — a term that’s such a wonderfully newspapery way to describe a collection of yesterday’s news. There, in all its pre-digital glory, were shelves upon shelves of carefully labeled folders stuffed with yellowing newspaper clips. For a girl who has always loved history, and who gets a not-so-small thrill from discovering cool facts found in old stories, this room was a revelation.

The morgue is still one of my favorite places to explore. I love that in our printed pages, reporters and photographers have preserved major moments — war, moon landings, and assassinations — but also small slices of long-forgotten local lore like downtown department stores and wedding announcements replete with old-fashioned descriptions of gowns, flowers, and honeymoon destinations.

Some of my favorite stories to research are the ones that depend on the hard work of journalists who came before me. It was fascinating to find our old clips from John F. Kennedy’s 1960 visit to Toledo when I was researching this story on the 50th anniversary of his death. The long-ago work of other reporters and photographers helped paint a picture for contemporary readers about what that day was like. (Even better: Tracking down an elderly Toledo judge who showed me his old home movies of JFK speaking at the courthouse and making sure we got them online to share with newspaper readers.)

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Decades ago, teams of newspaper librarians carefully clipped out every local story and filed them away in folders marked by subject. If I can’t find an old article in printed form, it can often be resurrected by reeling through old daily editions on microfilm, a dizzying but satisfying experience when I manage to find a key moment, such as this one from Sept. 20, 1959, depicting the then-Senator Kennedy stumping in Toledo.

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Newspapers morgues serve as a collective memory — an archive of pop culture, a trove of tragedies and victories, and a tool in investigations. It’s a reminder that, if I’m lucky, someone years from now may read something I’ve written and it will help them understand their world a little better.

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5 things that happen in newsrooms on Election Night

*Or, a post mostly about pizza.

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Nothing could have prepared me for the intensity that is campaign season in Ohio during a presidential election.

I covered many elections in my dozen years as a Michigan reporter, but the Wolverine State is rarely in play on a presidential scale. I moved to Toledo five weeks before the 2012 presidential election. I had no idea what journalism in a swing state meant.

It means wall-to-wall politics: Ads, stump speeches, rallies, polls, yard signs, and so many stories. It means all-hands-on-deck. It means driving to Cleveland and Detroit to catch up with Hillary Clinton. It’s a fantastic, hectic time to be a reporter.

Everything culminates on Election Night, always one of my favorite newsroom shifts. Today at 7:30 p.m., Ohio’s primary polls will close, and that’s when the real hustle begins.

Here’s five things that will happen tonight:

1. I will tell myself to eat *only* three slices of Election Night pizza.

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Remember how we talked earlier about newsroom cake?  Several people have since pointed out that Election Night pizza is the only thing that comes close to rivaling newsroom cake. Agreed. It checks off all the big boxes: Free, delicious, carby, and plentiful. In every newsroom across the land, editors stack boxes full of cheesy slices onto long conference tables-turned-buffets, and the line of journalists quickly forms.

2. I will actually eat many, many more than that.

It’s impossible to resist going back for a second and third plate of Election Night pizza. Bored during those 15 minutes before polls close? Have some pizza. Feeling frantic because a county is struggling to count ballots and print deadline looms minutes away? More pizza.

3. I will pizza-brag on Twitter and Facebook.

If a reporter eats a slice (or five) of pizza on Election Night and tells no one, did it actually happen? I think not. I will use a few seconds of down-time before results start coming in to remind my friends how awesome it is to be a reporter on Election Night.

Like this Tweet from the 2010 general election, when I was working in Michigan:

Or this Facebook post from a Michigan election in 2012:

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And this call-to-pizza cry uniting reporters across the country in 2014:

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 4. I will refresh local election results websites several million times.

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Here’s my typical Election Night schedule: Wake up around 10 a.m., go vote, barrage the poll worker with questions about how many people voted before me.

4 p.m. arrive at work, 6 p.m. finish my shell stories (the boilerplate paragraphs about who is running or what the tax increase proposal is about that can be written before you know results). 6:30-7:30 p.m. eat pizza, polish shell stories, make predictions for newsroom poll.

7:31 p.m. Tweet that polls are now closed, 7:32 p.m. check county websites to see if absentee votes are available, 7:45 p.m. start to feel silly for proclaiming “this year we’ll get the results early!”

8:30 p.m. get first final vote count; 8:35 p.m. write brief for web. 8:40 p.m. call winner and loser for quick interviews. 8:50 p.m. refresh election sites to check for new results.

9 p.m.-deadline refresh, write, make a call, refresh, beg an election clerk for results, refresh, call, write final print version.

Then, if anyone’s still standing, stop at the closest bar for one quick brown pop before falling into bed.

 5. I will leave the newsroom pumped up and dead tired

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Election Night bursts with drama — internally and externally — and that’s a big reason I love working it. Inside the newsroom, the stakes and stress are high. Outside, the stakes are even higher. Voters are deciding the future of our city, how and if we should spend taxpayer money, and who can best lead the nation. That tired adage that journalism is history’s first draft seems especially appropriate on Election Night — when the entire country waits to find out the will of the people. If you’re a reporter, you just may be the first to tell everyone what that decision is and what it means for all of us.

 

 

 

 

What ‘Spotlight’ got right: Newsroom cake

The fidelity is in the frosting.

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I’ve yet to meet a reporter who didn’t adore “Spotlight.” This year’s Academy Award winner for best picture is a love letter to journalism.

It’s also a newsroom time capsule, with superb acting and accurate sets that perfectly portray what newspaper life is like: The rumpled reporters, the tedious telephone interviews, the messy desks.

I thought it would be fun to chronicle the ways the movie mirrors my daily life, starting with the obvious one. The thing almost every reporter comments on when they talk about this film is the newsroom cake.

From the very first newsroom scene, the script gets  it right. It’s as if the writers thought, “How could we convey that what we’ve filmed is an authentic recreation of this story?” Like a secret knock or fraternity handshake, one thing alone gains you access in newspaper culture. And the password is frosted.

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In “Spotlight,” we first meet the reporters and editors when they gather in the middle of the Boston Globe newsroom for a retirement party. There are awkward speeches, a bit of forced laughter,  some real sentiment, and cake. Lots and lots of cake:

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Newsroom cake is a very big deal. When one appears in my newsroom — in the conference room or on the table that also houses the fax machine (how quaint) — reporters I haven’t seen in weeks scurry from their hidey-holes. For a moment at least, we interact as humans: sugar-fiending, carb-loading, free-food-loving, honest-to-gosh near-normals.

Newsroom cake is such a universally recognized symbol of coworker camaraderie that missing out might be worse than missing a deadline. Someone at the St.Louis Post-Dispatch even started a Twitter feed to alert others whenever a sheet of pure deliciousness appears in the newsroom. It may be my favorite use of social media ever.

Consider this cunning confectionery creation:

Or this setting-off-into-the-sunset sensation:

But you don’t have to take Hollywood or Twitter’s word. A quick scroll through my own iPhone photo albums came up with a numerous newsroom cakes that I’ve personally helped devour.

Like this clever cake to welcome back two injured copy editors who fell on icy sidewalks:

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Or this last piece of face cake to celebrate a photographer’s retirement:

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And this pun perfected on sheet cake to mark an editor’s 30th work anniversary:

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There’s a reason “Spotlight” started off its newsroom scene with a big slab of iced goodness, and it’s the same reason I saved several years worth of cake photos on my phone. Like I said, newsroom cake is a very big deal.

Why journalism is still cool

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It’s my parents’ fault.

Like so many other reporters, my love of journalism began early.

We were a newspaper family.  The kind whose dad sat everyone down at the dinner table and read the day’s most interesting story. Out loud. Because he didn’t quite trust us kids to read it all the way through. Or, if we did finish it, he worried we wouldn’t quite grasp the most important part. To be certain, he read it to us: From the headline to the last graph.

Around eighth grade, I stopped begrudging the frequent interruptions. I would come home from school, snatch the Wall Street Journal off the kitchen table, and dive right into the A-Hed.  The colorful characters profiled in those front-page columns captivated my attention, but what I really marveled at were the writers who got to meet them and tell their stories.

How cool, I thought. It’s somebody’s job to find these people, ask them questions, and write it all down.

Twenty years later, I still think what we journalists do is pretty damn cool. I’m lucky to be one of those reporters trained by old-school editors to be accurate, fair, and first; but who now has the opportunity to connect with new audiences and tell stories in fresh ways through online platforms.

It’s easy amid the daily deadline stress, industry upheaval, and newsroom cuts to forget about that word nerd who fell in love with newspapers. My plan is to use this space to reflect on the joys (and, yes, tribulations) of journalism so that I don’t lose sight of why I’m doing this. Though if I do, a quick trip to the mailbox will most likely yield an envelop of carefully selected newspaper clips sent to me by my parents.

Yes, mom and dad. I read the story.

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