A miracle is taking place in Toronto every single day. Don’t look now, but we’re starting to run out of miracles. I’m talking about newspapers and the dying that’s going on.
People inside the business know about this miracle. They live it. But does the public really know what’s going on under the hood?
As I wind down my 40-year newspaper career, I wanted to write a love letter to newspapers and pay my respects. They’ve been my life. They are many people’s lives.
Every day, this daily production, so chock full of dispatches and photos from all over the world, hits the presses and lands on doorsteps. To me, it remains a marvel of efficiency and teamwork.
That’s why it’s called the daily miracle. If you don’t know about it, read on:
On an average day, for instance, the print edition of the New York Times contains about 150,000 words, twice as many as there are in the Philosopher’s Stone and three times the number in The Great Gatsby.
The Star’s numbers would be in that category. Word for word, pound for pound, the price is a bargain. A coffee at Starbucks would cost you more.
At the Star, staff reporters, photographers, and correspondents all over the world gather information, often putting their lives on the line.
They offer a window to the world. They find people, think up great questions, take notes or record this, then dash off to write up an account, while photographers quickly race against the clock to file their best shots for scrutiny by a photo editor.
Out of this massive amount of reporting, only a small percentage of stories get selected for the daily paper.
All these stories, from the world of sports, politics, government to business and entertainment, get edited word by word and then are smartly packaged. The pages are sent to a printing press, which then churns out hundreds of thousands of copies. The papers are bundled, loaded onto trucks and delivered to your door.
Just a few breakdowns in the cycle, and this doesn’t happen. But it usually does and that’s the amazing part. A worldwide effort has led to your door or coffee shop.
Yes, there are mistakes and occasional typos. But don’t tell me you’ve never found a typo in your favorite book, and the publishing cycle doesn’t have the same time demands. I work in the business and I’m still in awe over this clockwork efficiency.
And then we all do it the next day. People would be shocked if they could walk in our shoes for one day.
They see newspaper movies and think they know us. Movies have portrayed us as aggressive egotists who will twist a story to land a scoop.
That’s why the movie “Spotlight” shines a more accurate light on what we do, and this Academy Award-winning movie has done more for our profession than any film since “All the President’s Men.”
The untold story of journalists is this: The writing is the easy part. The stuff that comes beforehand is what’s hard.
How do you find people? Where do they live? Where do they work? It would be easier if they wore tracking devices, but then journalism would be easy, right?
We are persistent. Not aggressive. There’s a difference.
And there’s little time to celebrate our achievements, big or small. It’s back into battle the next day.
I am reminded of a pivotal scene with Jason Robards, who played editor Ben Bradlee in “All The President’s Men.”
Woodward and Bernstein were about to break the Watergate scandal wide open, but a setback was threatening to sink the Washington Post. Bradlee praised them and prodded them at the same time.
“You guys are probably pretty tired, right? Well, you should be. Go on home, get a nice hot bath. Rest up…15 minutes. Then get your asses back in gear. We’re under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there.”
A lot of great journalists around the world will take that hot bath tonight and get their asses back in gear tomorrow.
The daily miracle is about to happen all over again.
Curtis Rush is a sports writer at the Toronto Star. Over a 35-year career at the Star, he has been a copy editor, general assignment reporter, crime reporter and, for the past three years, a sports writer. He retires from a 40-year career in newspapers at the end of April.