Post Fights the Old Ennui with Quiet Newsroom Hiring Spree

In W.P. Norton on December 30, 2016 at 3:47 pm

WASHINGTON, D.C. — So uh, hi, I’m W.P. and I’m a recovering journalist.

chorus: Hey W.P.!

Hi. Some of you know that after putting together a few 24 news-free hours in a row, one day at a time, I did go back out there to conduct a little “research.”

(somber chorus nods as one)

And I was reminded that this thing is a progressive disease! You put down the notebook for a couple 24 hours. So you’re like “cured,” right?

(chorus murmurs knowingly)

Then it goes to checking tweets, updates, likes. Suddenly you care about the news … you find yourself talking to people on sidewalks outside pizza joints on lockdown after a near-mass shooting. Then you’re writing a lede … and then … then … a nut graf. Before long, it’s off to the races with the hashtags and the snapchatting and the whole nine yards.

Like today I saw in POLITICO how the Washington Post is gonna have more than 750 newsroom employees to kick off 2017. And I … I … kept reading.

(chorus coughs, crosses legs)

Hey, it was hard not to care, I couldn’t look away, I mean my wife did some great work for the Post before she passed back in February! Anyway POLITICO says the new hires would bring news staff up to 750, the third-highest of the the national papers.

That’s second to the New York Times, which has just over 1,300 news employees. The Wall Street Journal says it has 1,500. I think USA Today has like 450 if you count the potted plants. So, you know, I like thought I could like put it down, you know, after just a couple grafs. But I read the whole thing. And God help me, I blogged. And I blogged again. And again.

(chorus checks smartphone)

Anyway I guess all I can really say is that next time a guy discharges an AR-15 at a pizza place less than two miles from where I sleep, I’ll get myself to a meeting. Maybe this time it’ll stick. And with that I’ll pass.

“Thanks, W.P.! Keep coming back!”

Adapted from POLITICO story “‘Profitable’ Washington Post adding more than five dozen journalists,” by Ken Doctor, published Dec. 27, 2016.

AFTERMATH: To stand with Comet against fake news, trolls and pizzagate

In pizzagate, standwithcomet, W.P. Norton, Washington D.C. on December 7, 2016 at 11:47 am

The trolls of #pizzagate failed to get anyone killed this time, but they’d sure love it if they could, and the bastards need to know they’re being watched.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Dear owners, staff and patrons of Comet Ping Pong pizza parlor: Being new in town, I had no idea you existed until the fake-news-inspired gun attack at your premises on the afternoon of Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016.

But I live pretty close by, and since that day have taken many walks over to your northwest D.C. block, and talked to folks outside, and discovered the brilliant Politics & Prose Bookstore a couple of doors down from you. And all this has changed my life.

Now, here’s where I ask those with no connection to Comet Ping Pong to give me your eyes, because I’m trying something new and hard for me—which is, to take a stand. When I was a young news reporter, an old-school veteran of The New York Times drilled it into me never to share my politics or positions on issues. Everybody has their opinions, he said, but we in the news business had to strike a public stance of careful objectivity.

It was a sacrament with which I did my best to keep the faith in jobs I worked at papers like The Capital Times in Madison, Wisc., The Moscow Tribune in Russia and the Miami Herald International Edition. And it’s hard for me to break that rule here, even though I swore off newspapering after the February 2016 passing of my gorgeously gifted bride Sarah Kershaw, who for 11 years gave all she could to The New York Times—a job she loved, even if, like most jobs, it never really loved her back.

With the the dogged dedication of my early mentor—who was Sarah’s hands-down favorite professor when we were both at University of Wisconsin-Madison—my wife spent thousands of working days and nights hunting down the details, facts and first-hand voices you need to report news that people can trust. This is called #realnews. It’s a thing we used to think preserved the people’s trust in the stories we reported.

Fabricating stories—that is, writing #fakenews—was the gravest sin to Sarah, our mutual teacher and all the scribblers of that fading breed who saw the work as not merely a job, but a vital public service.

So it’s come to this: the fake news #pizzagate allegations came perilously close to causing bloodshed in a family restaurant 1.6 miles from my residence on Dec. 4. Knowing the intensity of Sarah’s passionate commitment to public-service journalism, I’m certain those brazen falsehoods and that godforsakenly overused suffix (pizzagate? really?) would’ve pushed her past the peak of outrage. Within days of the attack, Sarah would have dug up a mountain of reporting, scored get-worthy interviews from every side, and helped the nation ratchet down this madness.

In consideration of all this and what I owe to Sarah’s legacy I say, if ever in my life there was a time to take a stand, this is it. So here goes: Comet Ping Pong, you and your whimsical name and your friendly staff are awesome. Your street has a supportive and neighborly vibe that makes me feel welcome and at home in a city I’ve never lived before. The trolls of #pizzagate failed to get anyone killed this time, but they’d sure love it if they could, and the bastards need to know they’re being watched.

Anyways. People of Comet Ping Pong pizza parlor, Politics & Prose, please count me among your regular customers and vocal supporters. I stand with you, and urge everyone reading this to do the same.

The coming world war

In W.P. Norton on June 24, 2016 at 10:32 pm
Fortune-telling is a mostly pointless exercise, but I think the epidemic of gun violence that is unfolding in our cities, as well as on film, television, Netflix and other video platforms is predictive of a global paroxysm of violence in the very near future.
A Third World War, if you like. Almost no show or film worth watching lacks gun violence, mass casualties, or both. And I think I know why. Something in the Zeitgeist is preparing us, desensitizing us, for mass violence on a scale never suffered since the dawn of man.
More than a century ago, Tolstoy wrote an essay on the tobacco epidemic in Europe. Why, he asked, were millions of people embracing the addiction to this substance whose chief effect is to numb the emotions? His conclusion: to become ready, or to be made ready, for the mechanized slaughter of war that he was certain would come.
Tolstoy died in 1910. Seventeen million died and 11 million were wounded in the global war of 1914-1918. I am watching the film “Mad Max: Fury Road” right now, and the horror it depicts is beyond my ability to describe. I fear we are careening toward another world war. Belgium, Paris, Berlin, Orlando, San Bernardino, and the other explosions of violence that have erupted in the last string of months may be the first flashpoints of this war.
I give it five to ten years.