Monday, March 12, 2007

Journalistic clutter

I went to see Zodiac over the weekend. Good movie. I can't really speak to the authenticity of its theories on the actual killer, though I've read Robert Graysmith's (played on celluloid by Jake Gyllenhaal) conclusions are flawed and in question.

I can speak to the notion that generally newsrooms are a lot more cluttered than those depicted in the film. (That occurred to me upon reading an article by a current S.F. Chronicle reporter here.)

Ours was always a mess, though it wasn't for lack of trying on the part of the editors and administration.

Our employee handbook read that nothing was supposed to be on your desk but what you were working on at the moment.

Bawahhaaaaaaahaaaaaaahaaaaaaahaaaaaaaaa! Coffee through the nose, ROTFL and all that.

A.) You were always working on 20 things at once.

B.)Journalists don't generally play by the rule books.

There were, of course, people with sick, twisted minds, who had neater desks than others, but there were plenty of desks with piles instead of files. There were also plenty who defied the "no personal pictures" on your desk order.

My desk was among the messiest but I had rivals.

One Sunday when I pretty much maintained the newsroom on my own, the city editor came in and spied the desk of a fellow reporter.

Apparently he'd ordered him to clean his desk the previous Friday.

The reporter had defiantly concentrated on writing news stories instead of developing a new filing system.

Infuriated the editor first nabbed one of the staff cameras and snapped pictures of the desk.

Then he took all of the files including governmental workbooks, manuals, budget printouts and various and sundry other pieces of material. These he stacked behind his own desk so that the reporter would have to come through him to get it all back.

When the reporter arrived the following day to discover the situation, he said: "Fine, if he wants the stuff, he can keep it."

Yeah, it was a day everyone went home happy - we had fewer mistakes and gramatical errors that day, we unearthed more graft and corruption that day, we wrote more stories that changed lives that day.

No wait, I think that's a logical fallacy isn't it? I think we just did all that anyway and they guy's desk being neater didn't have any impact, except it was the biggest morale booste short of the time they decided to post all style errors on the bulletin board.


Clifford said...


We were at the same flick. I thought it was pretty decent, creepy at times, though the book was even moreso. Funny thing was, the theater I attended was virtually hext door to the Chronicle building. It felt kind of amazing walking past it on the way back to the car.

I've never worked in a newsroom, but your description of the clutter sounds logical. I know how cluttered my desk gets when juggling the mass of documents, material, etc. that go into creating a technical document. Fortunately, tech writers are usually invisible to the outside world so we can get away with the "clutter".

Sidney said...

Yeah, fortunately my home office is not in the midst of an open newsroom. It would have put my editor into a state of catatonia.

Charles Gramlich said...

My office isn't exactly neat but I do keep at least one cleared area where I can put something down to read or make notes on. Actually, right now, both my home and work offices are considerably neater than usual. Not sure why that is.

RK Sterling said...

A clean desk means you aren't busy enough.

And the floggings will continue until morale improves.

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