Tag Archives: Newsrooms

Related Site

I read recently of a former CNN employee, a devout Christian, who filed a discrimination lawsuit alleging, among other things, that his co-workers frequently used profane language.

Profanity in a newsroom?! I am shocked! Shocked I say!

Pardon me while I wipe tears from laughing so hard.

Newsrooms are among the few remaining workplaces that I know where swearing is not only routine but tolerated.

Any attempt to curb foul language in such a work setting is a fool’s errand.

Memorably, the editor of The York Daily Record in York, Pa., not long ago circulated a memo reminding workers that cursing is not appropriate in the workplace.

“I know that newspapers have had a salty history and culture,” the memo said. “And I know that we all will slip from time to time. Still, I believe we can express ourselves adequately without the use of profanity.”

In a pressure-cooker environment that demands intense concentration and highly detailed work under deadline, the only better outlet for the frustrations that bubble up than swearing would be to have an indoor firing range.

I recall well my first newspaper job at a tiny newsroom in a community near the Canadian border in New York’s Adirondack Mountains and the day my editor got word that the newspaper had prevailed in a libel lawsuit.

“We beat those bastards!” my boss shouted triumphantly, slamming the phone down.

His exclamation was truly G-rated compared to some of the other expletive-laden outbursts I have heard (and yes, that I myself have led) in newsrooms.

I recall one day as a doe-eyed intern at the Manhattan offices of New York Newsday.

A Metro editor, the late Hap Hairston, sat at his desk, rubbing and clapping his hands and shouting jubilantly to no one in particular: “I love this (F-bomb) story! I love this (F-bomb) story!”

I recall being stunned that an editor would use such language and so loudly. And yet no one — I mean absolutely no one — looked up or gave Hap a second thought.

In a way, he served as a role model for me going forward.

As executive editor of The Pocono Record, I was, well, um, colorful in my vocabulary.

I found that some of my phrases (many learned from my dad and vestiges of growing up in the Bronx) were welcome stress-relievers.

It is a habit that I have carried on, to my chagrin at times.

Late one night in the middle of a breaking news story (a vintage World War II plane had crashed in the Hudson River), I was on the phone with a reporter who proceeded to tell me that the name of the dead pilot given to us hours earlier by the police — and posted online — was incorrect.

“Are you (f-bomb) kidding me?! Oh (f-bomb) me where I sit!” I exclaimed.

Hours later, a senior editor came to my desk and said: “That was quite the animated conversation you had earlier.”

In a cavernous newsroom in the stillness of the night, my voice carried — far.

While that was embarrassing, I am even more mortified that my sons have taken to cursing up a blue streak with abandon.

Damn kids. I do not know where they get it from. I swear.

Why the Fuck Is “Fuck” So Overused Today?

Weaving a Tapestry of Obscenity

What I Learned From the “S-Town” Podcast

The highly acclaimed podcast “S-town” reinforces two notions I’ve tried to follow in my professional and personal lives: Every lunatic caller deserves 10 minutes of your time and so does every person – lunatic or otherwise – you meet.

For those not familiar with “S-town,” it is the real-life story set in a tiny Alabama town where the show’s host, Brian Reed, is called on to investigate a possible murder.

As if that is not weird enough, the person who invites Reed, a guy named John B. McLemore, is, well, a bit eccentric.

McLemore is a Renaissance man of the highest order. He is erudite and articulate, his speech sweetened with a Southern twang.

In one of their first conversations, McLemore tells Reed that as a teenager he was into “the astrolabe, sundials, projective geometry, new wave music, climate change and how to solve Rubik’s cubes.”

McLemore also delivers long, lucid and hilarious profane-filled rants about his crummy little town (hence the podcast’s title).

It reminded me of something that I frequently preached (and practiced) in my work as a newsman: Every lunatic caller deserves at least 10 minutes.

Newsrooms are a magnet for people to call or email with tips about alleged corruption or consumer rip-offs, promote their inventions or weave tales of government oppression.

Some of them are crackpots or conspiracy theorists. Some have legitimate gripes that don’t rise to a news story. And then there are some where your news sense begins to tingle as they talk.

Such was the case when a woman called me with a story of how she had been married to a mobster, they had kids, he divorced her and the feds were interfering with her child support payments because the ex-mobster was now in the Witness Security Program.

Not only did the story check out and she had reams of documentation to back it up, but it led to a detail-rich narrative.

But my first inclination was to think that this was a prank phone call.

I can only imagine what that first call from McLemore to Reed was like and how the podcast journalist must have reacted. And yet Reed stuck with the story, making visits, doing interviews, gathering material for three years, leading  “S-town” to become a smash hit.

And it all started with an email and meandering conversations that would lead an ordinary listener to ask: Does your train of thought have a caboose?

Outside of newsrooms, Reed’s patience and openness offers another valuable lesson, and that is not to be quick to judge others.

I had some guy approach me outside of Penn Station with a hard-luck story of how he had just gotten out of prison and needed train fare to get to his brother’s place.

I listened as he showed me his prison ID and I recognized the institution, which led to more conversation. I gave him five bucks, shook his hand and wished him well.

I could have easily chalked him up as some panhandler unworthy of my time and been on my way, but I felt better for offering a few minutes of interaction.

Have I been burned by other encounters? Of course.

But I would still rather continue listening with my heart than my nitpicking brain.