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clumsy journalist, life, politics

24 Hours of Journalistic Hell: How I Wrote an Article Faster Than the Times


I was translating Slavoj Zizek’s essay for my paper yesterday, struggling with Lacanian terminology in Croatian, but actually enjoying it. I didn’t complain, though some of his sentences drove me crazy.

Everything was great until 4 p.m., which is the time when I normally start thinking about going home. And then it struck.

My editors decided I should write the leading story for our Saturday political supplement. This Saturday! It was Thursday. The story was due Friday afternoon.

Our Saturday’s supplement is in fact our wannabe version of the New York Times Magazine. You know, the one where you read stories that you know the reporter had spent months working on. Well, move over NYT, let me show you how it’s done in just 24 hours.

First, half an hour of panic. I walked around with a cup of water and stared down the stairwell while my mind was going in loops: I can’t do it! I’ll make a fool of myself! I’ll kill them! After I pull this one off, I’m still working the whole weekend! And I have a deadline for another big story on Monday!

Hm. Luckily, the Monday-story editor is sitting at the table in our cafeteria. Let me get an extension. Got it. Along with an opportunity for venting and a ‘there, there’, which was exactly what I needed.

Right. Let me call the lady who heads the national council for following the negotiations. The story is about the fact, or so say my editors, that Croatian negotiations with the EU are in big problems. This lady knows everything and belongs to the opposition, so might be willing to talk. “I’ll tell her I voted for her! Both times!”, I tell my editor, thinking of the recent presidential elections. “Wait, she didn’t get into the second round. I’ll tell her I would have voted for her both times!” Which is true. But I don’t tell her that. Instead, she tells me that she’d absolutely love to talk to me, that the council had identified 16 sore spots in the negotiations and can I come to the Parliament tomorrow?

Of course I can. And since I’ve never been past the lobby, I find this a special treat. We’re meeting at 10 a.m.

Great!

I call another MP who deals with the EU, our former Secretary for Europe, but he’s not answering. He’s probably debating at the Parliament. Never mind, I’ll see what I’ll do with him. Later.

Next call: the spokeswoman of the negotiating team. Not answering either. I text her. I tell her we’re doing this story and could she tell me where do we stand exactly. And yes, I have three questions for her media-shy boss – our head negotiator – and could he answer them because we’re publishing this with or without him?

My editor calls the Foreign Ministry and asks that someone talks to us about this. They have no problem with this, but will let us know.

There’s nothing for me to do now but wait. I suddenly get very tired and decide the best course of action for me is to go home for a nap. As I said, there’s nothing for me to do now.

By the time I’m home, my editor calls to tell me that the Ministry will be ready for me tomorrow at noon. While I’m half asleep in my bed, a text arrives that the spokeswoman from the negotiating team will be on the phone noonish as well. When is my deadline?, she asks. Tomorrow 4 p.m., I tell her. And how about your boss?, I ask. She’s horrified. Such a huge topic and so little time. She’ll try to persuade the boss. Excellent.

But now I can’t sleep anymore, so I start the next phase of serious journalistic inquiry: binging on junk food. Fried eggs, followed by chestnut puree with ice-cream and then peanuts. For this I first have to wash a pan and a spoon, since the last few days of my laziness have left the apartment in shambles. I feel slightly sick from the food, and sad, because Thursday is my favorite TV night: two episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, followed by two episodes of Desperate Housewives.

Ah, well. I decide that instead of light viewing, I’ll do some hard listening. I go through the interviews I did when I tried to do a story about why we’re having problems with using the EU pre-accession funds. This will be a so-called related story now. By the time I’m finished, it’s midnight, and I’ve already reached 2000 words. Which is cool, I think, because when I shorten it to the right measure, it might actually become interesting. It’s past midnight. Good night!

At three in the in the morning I’m still wide awake, my mind rushing. Somewhere around 1 I had actually been thinking of calling the editor and try to talk sense into him: no one at the paper really wants to have a really bad story on the first three pages of our Magazine. And it will be bad. I know. Maybe if someone else writes it, it won’t, but if I’m the author, I’m sure it will suck. Then around 2 my thoughts became slightly suicidal. What would happen if I jumped out of the window? So, at 3, I finally get up. I’m thinking I need alcohol. Hm. There’s apricot schnapps in the fridge, which I drink straight out of the bottle. What a wuss! Maybe I should make some relaxing tea while I tell my Facebook friends that I’m an insomniac. I’m not the only one. Others post music and funny videos. I post words of utter despair, then go to back to bed.

At seven in the morning my neighbors upstairs are rearranging furniture. Or maybe I’m just too sensitive.

In the tram I’m listening to General Fiasco. How appropriate. Owen is singing: We’ve been talking/Now we’re both thinking/You should tell me all the things that you’d like to tell me… or something like that. Which reminds me to jot down a few questions for this lady.

When I get to her office, she’s running late. Then she appears with a banana in her hand.

“I’m on this diet, I eat fruit in the morning”, she says.

I wonder if this is why she’s been looking great the last few years.

She complains that she has a spot on her orange skirt because she helped a lady with her bags on a tram and got dirty, and then wonders if her dirty skirt will be all over the media.

The interview goes well. Except for the fact that her first sentence knocks down the whole point of my story: of course we can finish the negotiations by the end of the year, that’s not really the problem.

I go back to the newsroom and break the news to the ‘wise men’. One of them is cheerful and says this can still be a great story: a little bit of this, a little bit of that and there it is. The other is quite desperate: he has three pages wide open for this, and knows it will be boring. Relevant. But boring. I’m with him. I’m not yet sure what my story is.

I make a few more phone calls, eat my lunch at the desk and start to write. It takes me three hours. It’s horrible. It’s on the page. It’s in tomorrow’s paper. With the most outrageous title: Two Women Push Croatia into the EU.

I’ll be the ridicule of the town. But not until tomorrow.

Update 28 July 2010:
In the meantime I’ve found the lyrics for that General Fiasco song and – it’s not a song about interviews. The right words would be: “We’ve been talking and we both think/You should tell me all the things that you’d like to do to me…” But, I guess it will always be a journalism song for me. :)

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Discussion

3 thoughts on “24 Hours of Journalistic Hell: How I Wrote an Article Faster Than the Times

  1. The article is good. I have voted for her in the first round. If she was a man, she would probably won. I’m not happy about entering the EU, but there is very little, that we haven’t destroyed yet, so…….we actually don’t have a much to lose anyway.
    Three billion euros loss, more or less, we used to! :))

    And …… the salad missing. Otherwise, fried eggs and chestnut puree are quite ok.! :)

    Posted by Tadeja | February 16, 2010, 13:33
  2. Thanks so much :) I’m sure things would have been very different she had the support from the media from the beginning like she had at the end, if we, the media, hadn’t declared at the very start that she had no chance. People who would have voted for her, naturally then voted strategically to prevent the victory of the “forces of evil”. But, I’m not sure she would have won anyways, too many people genuinely dislike her.
    As for the salad, I’m not really a vegetable person, I don’t like green food :)

    Posted by triviallyyours | February 16, 2010, 19:29

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