What ‘Spotlight’ got right: Newsroom desks

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My old desk at the Record-Eagle on a relatively organized day

Newsrooms are wild, wonderful places. Reporters’ desks? Often more wild than wonderful. Every newsroom I’ve worked in has had reporters who keep their desks tidy and organized. Then, there’s those of us who, well, don’t. But, I promise you I know where (almost) everything is.

The stacks of old newspapers, heaping piles of notebooks, and reams of paper are yet another thing this year’s Academy Award-winning film Spotlight, set in the Boston Globe newsroom, got right:

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An excavation of many newsroom desks would reveal layers of stuff that reporters can’t seem to part with: Old credentials, name tags, dusty Rolodexes full of soft-cornered business cards with precious cell phone numbers, directories, old phone books, maps, Post-It notes, coffee cups, coffee-stained press releases, letters from irate readers, letters from prisoners, and that one letter you got that one time from a happy reader.

Maybe it’s because our job is to observe and bear witness, record and report, but I’ve never been in a workplace with such a high percentage of pack rats as a newsroom. We’re collectors– of stories and sources, facts and artifacts. And paper– mounds and mountains of scratch pads and notepads, last millennium’s newspapers and this week’s pay stub.

Plus, you never know when someone might dispute your story or question your data. Nothing says vindication like a decade-old primary source saved from the scrap heap.

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My most cherished desk accessory is a large metal sphere made from the coils of hundreds of spines of notebooks. I inherited it after much badgering when my friend, a former features reporter, retired. An avid recycler, she had painstakingly ripped the coils from her notebooks and used them to craft an increasingly bigger and bigger orb. When the ball was bequeathed last fall, she estimated it was built from eight years worth of notebooks — notebooks filled with observations, interviews, and quotes  that were poured out into hundreds of stories and read by thousands of subscribers.

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Every couple of months or so, I dig through my drawer where I stash my old notebooks. I check to make sure that I’ve filled both sides of every sheet. Then, I rip out the inky insides, save the coils, and wind them around the notebook ball. My colleagues occasionally stop by my desk with fistfuls of spiraling metal to add to the sculpture, which is currently about the size of a volleyball and also serves as a plant stand for a few fake flowers.

Looking at it every day, standing sentry at the corner of my desk, it acts as a reminder of all the many, many stories newspapers have told and all the many, many more we have to share. So, nope. I’m not throwing it away and this is about as  clean and organized as my work desk gets.

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