March 31, 2014
Last week, a big story dropped into the laps of Charlotte journalists when Mayor Patrick Cannon was arrested on corruption charges. It was the best kind of big story because it wasn’t a catastrophe. Nobody got killed, so there weren’t any sad interviews with grieving relatives. Bad behavior by a top politician even has a certain cachet this year, as evidenced by the popularity of American Hustle. The big story had some former reporters for the Charlotte Observer waxing nostalgic on Facebook about those special days in the newsroom.
I asked myself if I missed the days when a big story broke. The answer: Hell, no! In more than three decades in big newsrooms, I lived through so many big stories as a reporter and later as an editor. They started out exciting, quickly escalated to grueling and reached a zenith of never-ending. A big story that got covered pretty thoroughly on the first and second days in print went on ad nauseum, as the bosses ramped up pressure for bigger and sexier angles. The big story never dies – it never even fades away.
I feel exhausted just reminiscing about it. But I wouldn’t mind being the good fairy of the big story. I’d be in the newsroom, invisible, enjoying the inside details and the late-night pizza. I’d perch on the reporter’s shoulder, hoping that all the sources would return her calls, that she’d get a killer quote for her second paragraph and that she’d make her deadlines for print and online. I’d spray some fairy dust on the copyeditor to catch all of her errors and to come up with the perfect page-one headline. I’d counsel patience for the top editors, to remember that nothing ever reaches perfection and that the staff works really, really hard. Best of all, I wouldn’t have to hang around for days when the story gets old and boring.