Wanderings – Noteworthy newsroom notions and nonsense

Working in a physical newsroom is an interesting experience. The smell of printer’s ink, the sound of a press running, the ringing of phones, and the tactile feel of newsprint held in your hands. Just as interesting is working with people, and the conversations that you may hear, overhear, or join in progress. All which can lead to raised eyebrows.

Some of the language used can be colourful when not dealing with the public-facing side of journalism. There is a good-natured wit in newsrooms and some are better than others – our office is one of the better ones I’ve worked in. Humour is a good antidote for writing about something particularly serious – as is a well placed gag or joke. As a fan of the sitcom The Office, some of the office pranks pulled by Jim Halpert may have been replicated locally – not that I will admit to replacing someone’s pens with crayons; or rearranging someone’s desk. No staplers have been found in Jello… yet.

Equally good in the newsroom is conversation and debate, which helps spur writing, or provide a different viewpoint for a story. Some of those debates go off in tangents.

One notable debate involved a colleague’s aversion to the use of a specific verb. That verb, when sandwiched between a preposition and a noun, is a frequently spoken phrase – especially when writing about government matters in frustration.

There was a debate in the newsroom about which word is plural in the phrase. Was it the noun, the verb, or both? Unable to resolve this in the office, and with limited resources to provide insight into this challenging question, I decided to use the vast resources of Artificial Intelligence to solve this. Why not? AI websites like ChatGPT could be faking audio of Joe Biden, or generating photos of Kim Jong Un dancing the Tango on Mars, or finding a cure for cancer. I decided to use AI for some serious work instead. As it turns out, all three versions of the phrase are correct, with some situational nuances implied. Problem solved, but my co-worker was less than enthused.

A recent computer upgrade in the office, coupled with a camera flash card malfunction, led to the purchase of several flash drives and backup camera cards. Of course, some in the office were comparing the size of everyone’s flash drives. Clearly more storage capacity is preferred.

Walking into the newsroom on a Monday can be fraught with peril though. A recent trip up the stairs resulted into confronting mid-conversation for making a doorway opening larger for a dead body to fit through.

This was not a police report, or a coworker admitting to foul play, just a director explaining the follies of staging a performance at the Playhouse. Whew! I was worried about the saw on the back table.

Certain sports terms, when taken out of context, can raise the odd eyebrow or two as well.

Of interest around our office is when old newspapers from the archive are read for our history section. The words or phrases that were used then, which would never be allowed into print now, is astounding. Names for different ethnic groups, which through a modern lens would be seen as racist or sexist, are common place in the past. It’s nice to see things have evolved over the past 100 years – no matter how good the old days were.

All kidding aside, I do feel sorry for journalists in news operations where the newsroom has closed, and everyone works from home virtually. Many newspapers have seen their offices shuttered and sold off.

Besides the camaraderie and frivolity in a newsroom like I have described here, there is a great deal lost when people work virtually, rather than in-person. Collaboration, bouncing ideas back and forth, looking at stories from different perspectives: all these make journalism better.

Originally published in the July 12, 2023 print edition of the Morrisburg Leader.