A life in newspapers is not for the faint of heart; aside from stressful deadlines, offices are often filled with unhappy colleagues, constant complaints from readers and negative bosses who rarely offer positive feedback. Still, journalists are sucked in—and often find it difficult to pull themselves away, even when the going gets tough. Not because they can’t, but simply because they love the business and the drama that goes along with it.
But often, the deadlines and breaking news the public is aware of are nothing compared to what goes on behind the scenes. From screaming matches to brief and torrid affairs between coworkers, the newsroom is a theater full of spectacle, both comedy and tragedy.
My life in newspapers began in 1996, when I was a journalism student at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and began writing for the student-run Mustang Daily. At the time it was the only completely student-run and campus-published newspaper in the state. My career continued along through a variety of news outlets until 2015, when I finally realized that I had no more left to give to the industry.
It had completely bled me dry.
It wasn’t necessarily the stresses of the job, but something else that killed my career. It’s something the public is typically unaware of when they’re reading their daily newspaper or scanning news online: the newsroom drama.
The following stories will offer a glimpse at what goes on behind-the-scenes at your daily, weekly or other print media newsrooms. This is my experience—and my experience alone—during my newspaper career, which spanned nearly 20 years.
Little did I know when I graduated from Cal Poly with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and an English minor, what would be in store for me and how so much of it would be off the record—until now.
As much as I disliked certain things about the newspaper industry, I did come across and continue to maintain friendships with some amazing people.
You know how they say bad things happen in threes? I definitely felt that during the very first week of my very first official newspaper job after college.
I accepted a job at a small daily in the city where I grew up; where I knew I’d have the chance to learn so many new things and work through those initial rookie journalist days.
It seems newspapers are constantly forgetting about employee safety and building upgrades—or else ownership just doesn’t care, which is entirely possible.
During a particularly heavy storm one winter, we were all hunkered down in the office working diligently when a loud crash echoed through the office. After nerves settled down, it was realized a portion of the ceiling have caved in, just a foot or so from the sports desk. The editor was sitting at the desk at the time and both she and the desk were sprayed with water and bits of ceiling.
Toward the end of my newspaper career, more and more things happened in the newsroom that made me wonder why I stayed as long as I did.
Or even how I survived.
Shortly after my graduation from Cal Poly, I was offered an entry level editing position at my hometown daily. This was back in the day when glue and rollers were still used to paste up articles and ads in the production department.
The offices I’ve worked at through my career have often been dog-friendly. People brought pets in and either let them wander or create play areas in their cubicles.
During my career in newspapers, I’ve seen a lot of cuts—cuts to production days, cuts to salaries, cuts to staff.
Layoffs were quite common through the years, as companies trimmed anything and everything they could. Readership would likely be shocked if they actually saw how few people put together their daily or weekly newspapers.