The eternal torments of a newspaper writer

Charles Purcell’s last piece for us, on the noble suffering of sub-editors, clearly struck a chord with Walkley Magazine readers. Now, we wouldn’t want reporters to feel left out. Consider this part two in an ethnographic series.

7am. Morning. Time for another glorious day at the newspaper. Every deadline a parade, every meal a banquet, every pay cheque a fortune. I love the paper!

7.30am. Say my daily prayer to St Jude, patron saint of lost causes and journalists.

8am. Stick jaunty “Press” card in hat.

8.30am. Surreptitiously watch my fellow bus passengers to see if they’re reading any of my articles in the paper. They’re not. Dejection sets in.

8.45am. Catastrophe! My latest piece has been cut in half. Must have stern words with Knuckles, the chief sub-editor of the news desk.

9am. Knuckles gets back to me: “Mate, don’t feel bad. I bet even Martin Luther originally stuck 150 Theses to the church door … only for 55 to be removed during the subbing process.”

10am. Asked to write 1,000 words on “Sydney’s booming crab-racing scene”. Is Sydney’s crab-racing scene booming, I wonder aloud. “It will be by the time you finish the story,” comes the reply.

10.30am. Colleague has me in hysterics with a joke that starts, “Four fonts walk into a bar”.

11am. Am reliably informed that the Latin for “who benefits” is cui bono, and not, as I have written, cui boner.

11.45am. Asked to interview the director of the Latvian Sock Puppet Orchestra. Almost faint in excitement.

Noon. Phone interview. Famous muso objects to me asking the origins of a song title.

“That is a facile question. Would you ask Radiohead if they thought Computers were OK? Don’t you think you’d sound like a complete wanker if you were that derivative?”

“Not a complete wanker,” I reply.

12.15pm. Group email goes out: “Does anyone have the Pope’s mobile phone number? Or Vladimir Putin’s?”

12.30pm. Against my objections, a “zero tolerance” sub-editor changes “Doctor Who” in my copy to the more grammatically correct “Doctor Whom”.

1pm. Wonder if being a newspaper writer is, in fact, to quote Jerry Maguire, “a pride-swallowing siege”.

1.30pm. Lunch. Read the cover story of the business section: “CEO died as he lived: wearing a gimp mask”.

2pm. Get photos back from my day as a nude art class model. Ring the photographer in a rage. “You promised me no photos of my goolies!”

2.10pm. Look up “goolies” in the Style Guide.

2.11pm. “Goolies” is not in the Style Guide.

2.30pm. Would I rather interview Belgium’s finest musical export since Plastic Bertrand or rising cover band Mennonites At Work? Talk about Sophie’s Choice.

3.15pm. The word goes out — the headline “back to the fuchsia” is now officially banned.

3.30pm. Asked to do a gonzo piece about auditioning for a “part” in Puppetry Of The Penis. I’m starting to think I should say “no” to more stories.

3.45pm. Apparently the collective noun for a group of journalists is “a whinge”.

4pm. The news desk says there are more puns in my piece on Sydney’s booming crab-racing scene than in a bad Kathy Lette novel. Not sure if that’s a good thing.

4.15pm. Reader emails me to say we should bring back larger body copy … along with conscription and caning in schools.

4.30pm. No compliments today about any of my articles. Don’t they know that kudos are the unofficial currency for journalists everywhere? Self-loathing sets in.

4.45pm. No, I may not appear in the newspaper dressed as a pirate. More disappointment.

4.59pm. Shut off my computer, feeling underappreciated, just as editor walks by. “Hey, your piece about Sydney’s booming crab-racing scene is a cracker of a yarn,” he says. “It’s going on page one tomorrow.” My entire being is suffused with delight.
Truly, I have the best job in the world.

Charles Purcell semi-regularly blogs on journalism matter as The Unrepetant Hack.

A former writer and sub-editor at the Sydney Morning Herald, he is the author of The Spartan, available on Amazon (Pan Macmillan, $5.99). Purcell is also the author of the unpublished book The Last Newspaper on Earth, which he’s considering rewriting as a zombie thriller entitled Zombies Ate My Newspaper.