The 10 People You Always Find In A Newsroom

July 7, 2009

It has now been half a year since I worked in a daily newspaper newsroom. Sometimes I miss it. The work, that is. But not always the people. I made a lot of great friends over my two decades in the business, but once in a while I remember the bizarre archetypes that make up newsroom staffs.

A reporter I know once described newsrooms as “Sitcoms watched by aliens.” That makes a bit of sense. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I can break the basic types down for you. You’ll probably recognize the same personality types from your own workplace, but to me, these people are what makes newsrooms tick.

Some of these overlap. Many people have elements of two, three or more of these. But everyone has elements of at least one. :

  1. The Lifer: “This is the way I’ve always done it.” This is the person who was hired as a reporter in the late 60s, early 70s, usually right out of high school or with a smattering of unrelated post-secondary education. Decades later, he or she is either in a position of authority earned by longetivity rather than skill, or toiling away at the same desk, going by the non-title “Senior Reporter.” This person has no interest in learning new technology or new ideas, and sticks with the same basic three-day crash course on reporting picked up decades ago.
  2. The Star: “That’s something I picked up when I interned at the Times.” You don’t see these people for long. They blast through the newsroom, heralded by an editor who says “Get ready for something special from this one.” He or she usually has at least three degrees, and probably a Master’s. One of the degrees will be in something really off-centre, like evolutionary biology. His or her resume will be full of volunteer work, overseas experiences and internships at the best papers in the world, but no explanation as to what led to your little rag. And they know everything. Just when you start thinking you could get along with this person, he or she moves on to a job at CNN. Years later, you notice a familiar name as press secretary to the prime minister.
  3. The Artist: “It doesn’t make sense to you because it’s good writing. I have an English degree, you know.” This type of reporter, editor, photographer or designer believes the standard rules of newspaper journalism don’t always apply. Flowery writing, artsy photography, experimental designs … all are well and good, until it’s 15 minutes to deadline and your reporter is online looking for T.S. Eliot quotes to round out a story on a fifth-grade spelling bee.
  4. The Faker: “How do we get a world wide web?” Closely related to the Lifer, the Faker has managed to disguise his or her inability to do the job by playing office politics. Sadly, this puts many of them in senior management positions. Many of them were hired in the 80s, which means they missed the advent of computer-based newspaper production, and have advanced only far enough to be able to send out a mass email full of inaccurate information and spelling mistakes. They have no interest in news about current trends, and have been known to pull reporters off stories about cyber porn “because nobody was actually hurt.” This is their way of saying they don’t know what it means.
  5. The Night Owl: “Oh, are you going for coffee?” Every paper has the guy — and it’s almost always a guy — who chooses to work the overnight desk. He lives alone, his hygiene is suspect, and he knows everything about all the other employees. Nobody is certain what he really does, but he always appears to be stressed and overworked. Once in a while, you see him during the day, out in the real world, and you aren’t sure it’s really him.
  6. The Hack: “It was every parent’s worst nightmare.” This type of reporter is the opposite of the Artist. He or she has no interest in the craft, and exists solely to meet the quote of five Ws in each story. Who, what, where, when, why. After a while, you start to think he or she has a dozen or so cliche-ridden article templates on the computer, and just plugs in names and dates as the story requires. Occasionally, staffing issues require this reporter to cover something different, resulting in an incomprehensible hodgepodge with key details missing.
  7. The Soldier: “We’re not supposed to do it that way.” This person does exactly as told, when told, no more, no less. If the boss tells the staff “Try to limit smoke breaks to 10 minutes every few hours,” this person will glance pointedly at the clock and sigh when you come back at the 12-minute mark. If you start noticing marked-up newspapers in the boss’s mail slot, with errors of style highlighted, you know who did it. The Soldier is known for never answering a question directly, and for never making a decision.
  8. The Rookie: “My shift ended an hour ago, but is there anything else you need me to do?” For the first few months on the job, new reporters want to soak up the excitement and glamour they think the job holds. After about the eight-month mark, after six turns-out-t0-be-nothing hour-long drives out to minor car accidents in the boonies, they tend to start drinking heavily.
  9. The Weasel: “I told her to change it, but she didn’t.” This person takes pleasure in others’ mistakes, and will go out of his or her way to make other people look bad. If you make a glaring error, and this person spots it pre-production, he or she will stay quiet, but run to the boss as soon as the paper hits print. This is meant to cover up a lack of skills of his or her own. Weasel editors also like to change reporters’ copy, often for the worst, without saying anything about it, which ends with reporters being asked to justify something they didn’t write. Like the Soldier, the Weasel never makes decisions and never answers questions directly.
  10. The Expert: “Call Herb at the Blue Room Tavern. He worked at Ford in the 60s and would know how to get ahold of Lefty Smith. Once you get ahold of Lefty, ask him for Joe Tucker’s phone number, and he’ll tell you which house it was.” This might be the Lifer, but not always. It’s the reporter or editor who soaks up local information like a sponge, and spends off-time browsing city directories and reading back issues of the paper. This leads to an encyclopaedia of knowledge about who’s who and what’s what in the community. The only problem with the Expert is the roughly 75% accuracy rate; once you start relying on what you’re told, you open the door to huge, glaring errors. Nothing makes a reporter feel worse than being told “You got the wrong Bob Walker.”

The sad part is, I have been, at one time or another, every one of these people.



  1. Hmm, I can’t decide which I am…

  2. The Night Owl, that would be me.

    Impressive post!

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