Maybe I'm a few years late here, but count me in as the newest fan of HBO's discontinued television series, "The Wire." The hit show details the life of gangs, drugs and police in Baltimore, but added a twist for it's fifth and final season last year. And depending on how frequently you watched the show, that might be a bad thing.
In the final season (a friend let me borrow his DVDs this week) the writers of the show tossed in their perspective of the Baltimore Sun newsroom. And it shouldn't be a surprise, considering the creator of the show, David Simon, is a former reporter from that very newspaper. One scene depicts the economic struggles of the newspaper and the effect the impending layoffs and buyouts have on the staff. Hmmm, where have I heard that before?
"The fact of the matter is it's more profitable these days to run a worse paper for less money," one editor says to another. "Cutback people and pages, you increase revenue."
Then a 20-year veteran reporter walks back to the group and says he’s been offered two options: Copy desk or buyout. He apparently chooses the buyout and tells his co-workers he’s ready to finally get started on writing a novel.
Then the phone rings and the city editor is called back to the corner office. The other co-workers glance at each other with uneasy looks. The editor trots into the boss’ office and sees both the managing editor and publisher waiting for him. The grin slides off his face as he takes a seat. But the publisher tells him to relax and they need him to transition into a leaner team of reporters. “Doing more with less,” the publisher says.
That sounds like a script stolen from quite a few newspapers I know, but let's snap back to "reality." While there aren't a lot of shows or movies about life in the newsroom, I found this one to be quite accurate and interesting. Brian Lowry, a columnist from Variety, agrees with me about the depiction of newspapers. But not everyone is happy, especially the entertainment writer from ... you guessed it ... the Baltimore Sun. is featured.
What I like most about the show is that I could relate to some of the characters. I loved the city editor and he reminded me of some of my former bosses. He was the kinda guy you'd gladly make that one extra phone call if asked. That character, Gus, also woke up in the middle of the night to call the evening editors to make sure he didn't screw up any of the copy. Brant Newman, the previous night editor at the O-R, can attest that he received plenty of late calls from me begging to tweak my stories. And I could see myself in the young cops reporter, who couldn't wait to see her first front page story, only to see it bumped to B1. Of course, I had to chuckle at the one journalist who manufactured quotes and sources to produce better stories.
But the most important message that Simon leaves us is what can happen to a community if it's left with a neutered newspaper, especially one with less reporters that are not able to uproot corruption by authorities. Without someone checking the daily police reports or snooping around City Hall, one can only imagine what great stories get swept under the rug.
In Memoriam: Tripp Zanetis, 1980 - 2018
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