//Ad libs: Still a party in the pressroom

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Still a party in the pressroom

Last night I went to my only party of the season that features fudge made by the district attorney. It was the annual holiday fete in the pressroom in the county Hall of Justice in Redwood City.

The pressroom is my old home sweet home: I was stationed there for a few years as a reporter for the San Mateo County Times. This was back in the dot-com boom, but because I worked for ANG, I had no Internet. If I wanted to look something up online, I had to go to the library. Or make nice with a Chronicle reporter across the room and use one of their snazzy machines. My computer typed only in orange.

Still, the pressroom wasn't a bad place to be. We had a creaky leather couch and a wall of shame of misspelled headlines, always good for a laugh. (Beware the "rouge ship.") There was also a nice camaraderie among the reporters when we weren't trying to scoop each other. When we set off to cover a meeting of the board of supervisors, we'd often amble down the hall together -- then sit in a clump and whisper when the debate flagged. The pressroom was convenient. If a supe or a DA ducked your calls, sometimes you could grab him or her outside in the hall or even spot the person through the window from your desk. Ha. I once bolted all the way across the courtyard to catch a quote. We were younger then. Reporting is a good job for people who can run.

At one point I think we had three Times reporters, four from the Chron, one from the Mercury News, one from Bay City News Service and one from a legal publication. It was bustling in there. We had Christmas lights year-round.

Now there are two reporters in the pressroom. Plus a lot of empty desks, a drawer of dusty coffee mugs, ANG time sheets with no one to fill them out, and even -- until recently -- a few left-behind Chron computers. In '99 I would have killed for those.

Last night, it was definitely a smaller party than in years past. Some writers, some county employees. I swapped recollections with fellow old-timers, but the younger reporters, who mostly work in other offices, didn't think we were that funny. (Come on! How can you not laugh about the Times doing a story about Merv Griffin and accidentally running a photo of Supervisor Mary Griffin?) But there was still plenty of lively talk about stories, sources and editors.

And I heard that many of my former cohorts who have left newspapers are doing pretty cool things. One works for San Mateo County, something that has interested me since my days as a poli-sci major. Another is in the foreign service and headed for India, while Michele (Marcucci) Ellson, a former Times pressroom denizen, writes and edits the Alameda online news source
"The Island."

Of course, some of us soldier on as ink-stained wretches. It can be tough to feel like the last one standing, especially as an arts journalist (a particularly endangered breed). But I'm as proud as ever of what we do. Someone's got to keep an eye on the store.

Photo of a typewriter -- which would have been better than the computer I had in the pressroom -- courtesy of morgueFile.com.