Monday, September 3, 2012

Copy editors don't have offices

Real life is not like the movies. Everyone knows that on some level, because most people have yet to have one of those movie-ending moments in their lives where they save the day against all odds, start dating a sensitive, intelligent model, get sweet revenge on their enemy, have all of the criminal charges that should have resulted from their hijinks magically disappear and are offered a large reward and the job of their dreams all in the same afternoon. Still, you assume that Hollywood gets other facts straight until they make a movies about something you're very knowledgeable about, like football or stamp collecting or being a dentist. And then you say, "If they think that's what it's really like, then maybe I shouldn't rob that casino based solely on my knowledge of Ocean's Eleven after all."

Take, for example, reporters. I'm not a totally seasoned veteran yet, but I've worked in three different newsrooms and met a whole lot of journalists from other publications so I think I have a pretty good feel for what it's like to work in the print industry. And I can tell you, it is nothing like Hollywood usually portrays it. If you'll notice, one of the two leads in romantic comedies often work for a newspaper or magazine (think Never Been Kissed, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Runaway Bride, 27 Dresses, Sleepless in Seattle and When in Rome) and it is always obvious that the director has never actually set foot in a newsroom (well, okay, I can't speak for sure for a magazine).

For goodness sake, in Never Been Kissed Drew Barrymore is a copy editor at a daily newspaper and she has her own office. I can't even begin to tell you how absurd that is. People who work for newspapers do not have offices--it's called a newsroom, not newsrooms, for a reason. Even when I worked for the Daily News, which is huge, everyone worked on computers spaced about every three or four feet along rows of tables, even the assignment editors. How else are you supposed to yell across the room at each other and eavesdrop on conversations so they don't have to be repeated? It would take twice as long to put out the paper. The only people who had their own office that I know of were the publisher and managing editor. And a copy editor is low man on the totem pole, so there is NO WAY Drew Barrymore would have an office. The Daily News, by the way, is supposedly where the main guy in When in Rome works and I can tell you the actual newsroom does not at all resemble what the movie portrays, although at least they don't work in offices. But it's way too cheerful-looking.

Also, movie newsrooms (at least of the newspaper variety) are always populated with way too many highly attractive people. I'm not saying there are no good-looking people working at newspapers. I'm just saying that most ridiculously good-looking people interested in journalism end up as news anchors, and print reporters generally tend to look vaguely homeless, except for the photographers, who look explicitly homeless. And those journalists' desk always look even more unkempt than they do.

Another thing that is unrealistic in movies that supposedly feature a journalist are the deadlines. Sure, journalists do occasionally work for a couple of weeks on an intense investigative story involving freedom of information requests for government documents, but when the journalist in a romantic comedy spends three weeks falling in love with the main character they are writing a column or story about, generally by about the third day the editor would be going "Why is this not on my desk? I needed it yesterday!" Maybe that was how it was at one time. But now we live in an age when print is dying and therefore every journalist is doing the job of three other people and therefore journalists are always running around frantic and harried and having to choose which thing they should be doing will have to not get done for the day, not meeting a cute guy for coffee at 10 a.m.

Item number four: Print journalists are not perky and do not get excited about things, except maybe scandals involving government officials and gaffes made during presidential debates. They don't walk around the office smiling in a dreamy way that makes their co-workers say "You're in love, aren't you?" Their co-workers would not ever under any circumstances ask such a ridiculously sappy question.

If you want a better idea of what journalists and newsrooms are really like, I suggest watching State of Play with Russell Crowe. Of course what happens to his character in the movie is more exciting than a normal day of work, but in the bonus materials they talked about spending a couple of days at the Washington Post doing research and it shows. The newsroom looks like what a major metropolitan newspaper's newsroom would actually look like. Russell Crowe's desk, with its papers and sticky notes and notebooks covering every inch, looks like a journalist's desk. He and his car are both appropriately unkempt and unassuming. His editor, played by the talented Helen Mirren, is appropriately tough without being the red-faced, ranting caricature of an editor in a lot of movies. Some things in the movie aren't very realistic, like the extremes they go to in one case to blackmail someone into talking to them, but a lot of other parts are.

If someone made a movie about journalists that involved a lot of sitting through a lot of public meetings, now that would be really realistic.

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