The Reality Of Journalism: Terror Of Irritable Bosses

I recently read a terrific novel called The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman.

The book, which has earned a lot of well-deserved acclaim, was named a notable book by the New York Times in 2010. (Yes, I’m a bit late to the party).

The novel tells the story of ten people working for an English-language newspaper in Rome, each of whom gets their own chapter. We meet a desperate foreign correspondent, an underappreciated copy editor, an anal (and somewhat hilarious) corrections editor, and a detached obituary writer, among others.

Mr. Rachman was a foreign correspondent for The Associated Press before becoming a novelist, so  it’s little surprise that he has a keen eye for the small details that make up a newsroom. In a reader’s guide at the end of the book, he discussed his experience working in a newsroom with another well-known author, Malcolm Gladwell. Their takeaways are useful reminders for all of us who interact with the press.

Malcolm Gladwell: “I was stunned by the pace of newspapers: by the fact that something could happen at four o’clock in the afternoon and a reporter could make a dozen phone calls, track down every major player, and write 2,500 words on the subject – all by six o’clock….What was it you found surprising?”

Tom Rachman: “I had pictured journalism as I’d seen it in the most ennobling films, where the reporter battles for the truth, propelled by conviction, and is triumphant. There are journalists who meet that ideal. But in my experience, lesser drives were more commonly the engine: an urgent need for copy and quotes, the terror of enraging one’s irritable bosses, the desire for advancement or for prestigious postings. My own career started in New York at the Associated Press, a fast-paced news agency where we rarely had time for deep reporting. We might be expected to work on a dozen separate subjects in a week without error. One had time to cope, but rarely to excel.”

No wonder some of the journalists in Rachman’s book lead miserable lives. Like many professionals, reporters have to operate under tremendous deadline pressures while deftly navigating internal politics. But unlike other professionals, they have to do it and endure the daily judgment of thousands of readers.

The Imperfectionists gets all of that right, and I enthusiastically recommend the book.

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You can purchase the soft cover here.

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