Newspaper Dreams

About twice a year I have a dream where for whatever reason I’m back at the University of Chicago and I’m once again working on the student newspaper, the Chicago Maroon. Last night was one of those times; in the dream I’m the same age as I am now, and I was walking into the Ida Noyes building to go to a staff meeting, and I was wondering if it would be awkward for the rest of the staff to have 42-year-old former Editor-in-Chief and professional writer doing stories. In the real world, I think the answer would be “well, duh,” but in the dream it seemed to make perfect sense. Because, you know, dreams are that way.

I don’t really have any ambition to go back and write for my student newspaper; to the extent that the dream means anything other than the Maroon was tangentially on my mind thanks to that picture of me at 20 that I posted, I think it was a reminder that I liked working for a newspaper, both the Maroon and the Fresno Bee, when I worked there (and the San Diego Tribune, when I interned). It’s often said writing is a solitary profession, but that depends on what kind of writer you are. Being a journalist in a newsroom is not especially solitary; there are lots of other people, lots of activity and lots of back and forth and craziness, especially around the afternoon deadline.

That buzz of activity and working toward a daily goal is fun, or at least it was fun for me. And yeah, I miss it. I like my life now, and working from home; right now I’m typing away merrily on a laptop, in a recliner in the front room of the expansive Scalzi Compound, while cats doze all around me. It’s hard to complain when you’re living the writing life most writers would kill for. But I did like the daily contact high of being in the same room with other writers, everyone typing away and making phone calls and getting in fights with the copy editors (wait, that was mostly just me).

Every once in a while I daydream about going back into newspapers; it’s an idle dream, given the health of the newspaper industry, the fact my own career is fiction-centric at the moment, and because then I would have to trade hazy, halcyon memories with an actual day-to-day grind of work and office politics, which are bits of that milieu I can conveniently forget when I don’t have to deal with them. But it’s still nice to imagine from time to time, especially when I focus on being around other writers. I mean, there is Twitter, on which I can bother all my writer friends while they work, and they me. But it’s not quite the same.

28 Comments on “Newspaper Dreams”

  1. Reminds me a lot of when I did printer support for HP on Macintosh computers. Now don’t get me wrong, it was in a terrible place to work, a commercial call centre, but I really miss the team I was on. We worked a crazy amount for horrible bosses, but I still remember that time fondly because the people around me made it fun. We joked together, commiserated together, and then went out to the bar and got drunk together. I’m just glad I still get to work with some of those people in my new job.

  2. Well, it’s good you recognize the dream of working at a newspaper is idle since the health of one major newspaper, the NYTs, is being reported today as so bad they continue their much-deserved decade-long journey into bankruptcy. But, considering this is the paper that gave space to worthless propagandists like Walter Duranty and Charlie Savage (see: outright lies to coverup Fast and Furious) I say: good riddance to bad rubbish.

  3. You worked at the (Evening) Tribune?
    I remember going to Padres games and having newspaper vendors hawking the ET before the game started.

    Did the Tribune die while you were there? I know it merged with the Union (and stopped publishing in the evening) back in 1992.

  4. You could work for one of the Murdoch papers – they specialize in publishing fiction – though they don’t label it as such.

  5. I think you have it right that the best thing about office work is the nice people. There are also always not so nice people, but best just to avoid them whenever possible. I worked at home for several years and the lack of human contact – in person – was what I missed the most. Now that I am back in the office, I try to remember that and be appreciative and just plow through the other stuff. I heard on NPR about a study that showed that the happiest folks in their jobs are the folks who have friends at work – not just associates. I am gratefuly for mine!

  6. You came up in conversation last week with a friend and co-worker and we got to talking about the Beverly Hills 90210 synopses that appeared in the Maroon. One year in particular they were really
    good…were you personally responsible for those?

  7. A couple of times a year I have a dream I’m still in the Navy. A few times, I wake up thinking I need to get up, put my uniform on and drive to the ship.

    It’s not that I really want to be back in the Navy. If you want to simulate what I did, go get a brick, tie a string to it and hang it around your neck, then stand fully dressed in a cold shower from midnight to four AM. Go back to bed, and get up at your regular time to go to work.

    I think, in everybody’s life, there’s a point that we mentally transition from being kids to adults. Whatever that point is, afterwards, that’s what we dream about.

  8. I don’t know about newspapers, but I recenetly started watching Current TV on cable. Damn, they do some good journalism. If you specifically want to write text, then that wouldnt work. But if your attraction to newspapers is more the ‘journalism’ part, and the specific medium isnt quite as important, there is definitely some good work being done by those guys.

    Nearly all of my dreams take place on the farm where I grew up. Even if I am dreaming about something that happened a week ago, the dream usually relocates it to take place back on the farm.

  9. I like drifting by every so often.
    Not all of the fun of the real thing, but *waaay* less aggro.
    Journalism won’t really be dead until the participants quit making quips about the process (both intentional and unintentional).

  10. I miss being a newspaper reporter too. I mean, I’m glad I’m out now because as far as I can tell there are 2-3 people left that I used to know who haven’t been laid off from there yet (the head editor and the police reporter are still there, that may be it) and even the other editors I knew all got laid off. And now I have nearly 10 years of seniority at my current job to help possibly ward me against layoff, which is a bigger deal where I work now than it was at the old place.

    But man, when my work made national news last month, and I had to keep my effing mouth shut on the Internet just in case doocing occurred… MAN, I WISHED I WAS A REPORTER so I could comment like hell about it.

    I really wish it wasn’t a dead/dying industry, dammit.

  11. “It’s often said writing is a solitary profession, but that depends on what kind of writer you are.”

    Too true, Mr. Scalzi, too true. I used to be a solitary writer, and I was kinda miserable. But then, through various trials and tribulations, I found a writer friend. And then another. And then another. Now, there’s a group of 5-8 of us (5 at the core, 3 who kind of “fringe”) who get together at least three times a month to write together, talk about writing, bemoan our plot problems, etc. Three of us meet every Monday. A different three are in contact via phone, IM, or text almost every day.

    It’s wondermous. I have a tribe. They get me, and I get them. And I’m not miserable anymore. : )

  12. Hmmm, well, while you certainly aren’t engaged in traditional journalism, with a fun group of co-workers and a bullpen (is that the right phrase?), I would venture that you do get to editorialize now and again. It’s just that you have your own paper now. Which makes you Publisher and Editor.

    Please do keep doing that, too. Between your occasional essays and the Big Idea posts, they keep me coming back to your website close to every day. Thanks!

  13. We don’t get to fight with the copyeditors these days because no one has any left. But at least we have editors to wrangle with. “You want to put WHAT headline on my story?! You are driving me to TWEET about your stupidity.”

  14. Imagining myself back at my college paper at my present age wouldn’t be so odd – it was a Big Ten university daily whose staff included undergrad and graduate students of all ages, at least two of whom were in their 50s when I was editing and occasionally writing there. It was a great experience for me – I actually delayed completing my master’s (i.e., taking an oral exam) for several years to be part of it. (One of the two fiftyish ladies went on to become an editorial columnist at the Rocky Mountain News and retired just before it shut down.)

  15. I know exactly what you mean: The paper that I worked for was one of the last of its size to still do paste-up by hand, and I spent many happy mornings with an Exacto in one hand and a roll of 12 point line in the other, trimming photos to make them fit my stories and putting pretty little box around things. I made tidy corners, if I do say so!

    The paper has moved on (merged with another, obviously changed to computer composition long ago) and so have I, to an entirely different career now. But those were good days, and even if their time is done I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

  16. After nearly 20 years in the biz, I’ve been away from newspaper for three years, and for the most part I can’t say I miss it. I do miss some of the great people I worked with, and it was exciting at times when big news was happening. I enjoyed graphic design work from time to time, but … yeah, I’ll stick to writing at home. At least there are no meetings.

  17. Be glad you are not a journalist in Britain at the moment. If it interests you, read the transcript of the Leveson Enquiry that is taking place at the moment – it shows the profession to be immoral, illegal and just plain dirty . . . . .

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