Remote working: To rescue the newsroom, we need to get back to work

Remote working: To rescue the newsroom, we need to get back to work

With journalists swarming around Washington for the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner and cascade of parties, it seems like a good time to write the final obituary for the American newspaper newsroom.

The legendary percussive soundtrack of a paper’s newsroom in the 1940s was best described by Times culture tsar Arthur Gelb in his memoir City Room: “There was an overwhelming sense of purpose, fire and life: the clacking rhythm of typewriters, the throbbing of great machines in the composing room on the floor above, reporters shouting for copy boys to pick up their stories.”

Jeff Gerth, left, and Maureen Dowd are congratulated as they walk through the New York Times newsroom after the announcement that they won Pulitzer Prizes in 1999. Credit: AP

There was also the pungent aroma of vice: a carpet of cigarette butts, clerks who were part-time bookies, dice games, brass spittoons and a glamorous movie star mistress wandering about. (The Times never went as far as Cary Grant’s editor did in His Girl Friday, putting a pickpocket on the payroll.)

Forty years later, when I began working in the Times newsroom, it was still electric and full of eccentric characters. The green eyeshades were gone, and nobody yelled, “Hat and coat!” to send you out on breaking news. And it was quieter as it computerised.

But now I’m looking for proof of life on an eerie ghost ship. Once in a while, I hear reporters wheedling or hectoring some reluctant source on the phone, but even that is muted because many younger reporters prefer to text or email sources.

“A problem with this,” said The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, who started with me at The Star, “is that if you interview someone in writing, they have time to consider and edit their responses to your questions, which means that spontaneous, unexpected, injudicious and entertaining quotes are dead.”

I’m mystified when I hear that so many of our 20-something news assistants prefer to work from home. At that age, I would have had a hard time finding mentors or friends or boyfriends if I hadn’t been in the newsroom, and I never could have latched onto so many breaking stories if I hadn’t raised my hand and said, “I’ll go.”

Mary McGrory, the liberal lioness columnist, never would have gotten to know me at The Star, so I never would have gotten invitations from her years later like this one: “Let’s go see Yasser Arafat at the White House and go shopping!”

This content was originally published here.

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