It’s early afternoon. That lunch-siesta-nothing going on time at a newspaper. I’m at the photo desk trying to track down a missing photo.
Darryl, the chief photog who’s just been laid off, is listening to the squawker. Something about a tanker truck in a building at the Chandler airport. This has got to be a drill, he says. And maybe a helicopter. Gotta be a drill, he says. Need to evacuate buildings, the squawker says. This can’t be a drill, he says. Gotta run. This guy who’s working his last Thursday at the paper goes sprinting out of the building for a high-speed chase after one last spot news photo.
The cop shop reporter is at lunch. With the city editor. The only reporters here are David, a business writer who’s also been shown the door, and Amanda, a reporter who is being relocated to an uncertain future.
They instantly go to work making calls. Fire officials. Airport. FAA. The husband of an employee here who works near the scene. Pretty much anyone in Chandler who will pick up a phone. Nobody asked them to jump on a story far outside their beats. But it’s news and they’re reporters. That’s what they do.
Jayson, the Internet guy (who didn’t get laid off because he is a terrific journalist as well as the architect of the brilliant Nerdvana blog, and you wouldn’t take a chance on bad Nerdvana mojo) alternates between posting their story and feeding them stuff from another site. Turns out it’s a World War II-era plane that crashed into a hangar in a ball of flame. Pilot dead. Not the world’s biggest story, but not bad (in that convoluted good is bad/bad is good newspaper speak. “There’s a really bad quake in Haiti.” “Wow. That’s a really good story.”)
Amanda and David relentlessly work the phones and keep updating. They both have their own stories they should be working on, but they continue to pound away, feeding Jayson rewrites for the web site. Randomly calling nearby businesses for quotes. Squeezing out every bit of news.
Seemingly hours later, the major metro’s web site posts a short story. About the same time, our photog sends in a photo of a firefighter looking at the charcoaled plane sticking out of the hangar that eventually becomes the cover photo for our Chandler print edition.
The cop reporter then picks up the story, freeing Amanda and David to resume their day job. Darryl returns and settles back into his routine.
What do these three have in common? They were all either laid off or reassigned. They had every right to call in sick, to be bitter, to go through the motions, to just finish out their shifts and move on. But when a big news story hit, they did what journalists do: They covered the hell out of it. Nobody will know, nobody will care. But when the bell rang in the last round, they came out swinging.
I’m glad that I walk out of the joint knowing that you can take the journalist out of the newspaper, but you can’t take the newspaper out of the journalist.
Gonna miss the place …