When I left the newspaper business to work for a utility company five years ago, I had two fears: (1) I would not know the difference between a transformer and a trashcan. (2) My new co-workers would not have the same thirst for pranks as the pack of wolves in the Ocala Star-Banner newsroom.
Would, for example, my new supervisor wrap my entire desk in clear packing tape? My old one did. Would I, in turn, sneak into that supervisor’s office and replace his name plate with mine and replace his family photos with mine? I did. So worth it.
Birthdays were big in the Banner newsroom. Cakes were accompanied by cards signed (plagiarized) by celebrities and convicts and convicted politicians.
It’s the same for all newsrooms, I’m guessing. The culture is shaped by dark humor and keen BS meters. Newsrooms run on chaos and coffee, hard shells and big hearts.
So, yes, there was an eerie politeness at my new job. Positive energy replaced cynicism, and co-workers were too nice for fifth-grade antics.
But soon I received a birthday card from my new co-workers. There were no well wishes from David Hasselhoff, but there was a notable greeting from a manager I had worked with briefly at that point.
“Happy birthday,” he wrote. “I hate your stupid guts.”
I laughed hard. May have snorted coffee. I knew I would be OK.
Still, I have been thinking about those newsroom days. You see, the wife of a former colleague/always friend passed away unexpectedly, and those newsroom wolves with the packing tape and the “Get Well Soon” cake shaped like a hemorrhoid rallied and reunited.
As much as we teased each other, we loved each other more. You see a lot of things in the news business. Daily, we processed bad news, good news, disturbing news, heartwarming stories and even weird chicken stories.
Since then, the newspaper industry has suffered, and most of those talented humans filtered into jobs with proper office decorum. The Star-Banner valiantly survives with a tiny staff and the respect of their former colleagues.
Seeing the need for more local news and fewer people to report it, the Ocala Gazette surfaced and absorbed several of the Banner’s newsroom gems (as did this magazine). I just hope the Gazette newsroom is as delightfully dysfunctional as our old home was.
At the memorial service in late September, we cried for our friend and hugged people who do not like hugs. This was a true loss—a mother, wife and friend who brought fun to any room.
And we realized, she must be looking down and saying, “It’s about damn time you idiots got back together.”
In December, two former Banner newsroomers—one of several marriages from the paper’s staff—held the first Star-Banner Holiday Reunion. More than 30 newsroom veterans attended, including two journalists still making the paper every day.
I smiled. A lot. Then I clanked a beer bottle to honor the past and, certainly, the future. I cannot wait for the next reunion.
This was my tribe. Still is, really. It took a tragedy to realize that. OS