After the Keynote Luncheon, I went to a workshop, but then it was time to meet up with some of my fellow M&B/Harlequin Romance authors in the lobby, because we were off on a little excursion – something I was particularly excited about – a tour of the Washington Post.
After getting the Metro downtown, we stopped off for iced coffees (bliss!) and then met up with a couple of other editors and authors at the Washington Post building.
Here's Lynn Raye Harris, Donna Alward, Shirley Jump, Kim Young, Teresa Southwick, Susan Meier and me (and I think Barbara Wallace is hiding in the back!)
We were all given bar-coded stickers with our names on and someone had to scan my…erm…chest to let me in the building. It’s been a long time since I was a newsroom. My father used to be a journalist and I remember visiting the offices of the Daily Express when I was small to watch the Lord Mayor’s parade progress down Fleet Street. There were a few minor changes, but the office layout wasn’t dissimilar – a big, open-plan room with lots of desks.
First stop was small TV set that their reporters use to report breaking news. They sit slap-bang in the middle of the newsroom and give their report – no green screen technology or CGI effects here. And I like that.
We scurried round the newsroom in a hurry, desperate not to disturb anyone who was still working at their desks, although at 5.30 p.m., the place was virtually deserted. We popped out heads into offices, said collective ‘hello’s to many people whose names and jobs I have now forgotten completely, although I do remember meeting Steve Pearlstein, who won a Pulitzer Award last year for his columns on the recent financial crisis (one of 6 Pulitzers the Washington Post and its staff collected last year!). Mr Pearlstein is said to be the man who first predicted the financial crash of last autumn.
Shortly afterwards, a loud buzzer sounded and we instantly changed direction and headed for a small conference room. It turned out that we were going to be allowed to sit in on a story conference where the editors decided what was going to be on the front page the following day. How excited was I? We were handed a sheet of paper with the mock-up for the front page and the same graphic was displayed on a wall-mounted computer screen at the end of the conference table.
Now, in novel writing, it can take ages to decide which way you are going to go with a story. I often need plenty of thinking time so I can investigate different avenues and decide which one is the right way to go. In journalism, everything is much more immediate. It has to be decided and it has to be decided now. There were no lengthy speeches from each editor, only short to-the-point comments. These people do not mess around.
Mostly there was agreement on what should grace the front page. The only suggestion to change was that one editor (I’m so bad with names, and I had reached my limit by this point in the tour – apologies!) suggested they drop a story of the Maryland GOPs (I’m British. I have no idea what this means!) and instead focus on President Obama speaking to the NAACP. Everyone else concurred, saying there was a few more days for the other story to peak and they agreed that, because they didn’t know what Obama was going to say and, therefore, had no idea if they were going to have a good quote to lead with, that the story should be more the fact it would be the first time a black president would address the civil rights organisation.
I would say the story conference lasted a maximum of fifteen minutes, probably less. I noticed on the wall one of the old-fashioned plates that newspapers used to use to print the pages framed an hung on the wall. I took a picture (see above), but it’s a bit fuzzy. The Washington Post was the newspaper to break the Watergate story back in the 70s and the plate on the wall reads (back to front, of course): “Nixon Resigns”. Fab.
The other picture I took a photo of in the newsroom was something taped to one of the supporting pillars – mainly because I thought it was funny – a picture of Paris Hilton after she was arrested, even though it’s from the front page of another paper.
Before we ended our tour, we were allowed to go upstairs and see the executive offices. The chairman, Donald Graham, has the most fabulous door on his office, made out of the old wooden printing blocks that would have been used once upon a time to set the headlines in the newspaper.
I also took a photo of a portrait of Donald’s father, Philip Graham. With it being Harlequin’s 60th birthday this year and Mills & Boon’s centenary last year, I’ve seen a lot of the vintage covers on display, and I thought Mr Graham wouldn’t have looked out of place on one of them as a dashing hero. Sadly, Mr Graham’s own life did not have a happy ending but was turbulent and traumatic. After learning a little about the Graham family and how his wife Katharine took the reins of the Post after his death, I would be really interested to read her autobiography.
After our tour finished, we headed back to the hotel and Donna and I met up with Kate Hewitt and had a light dinner at a lovely Italian restaurant across the road. We shared a tomato and mozzarella salad to start and I had linguine with seafood in a marinara sauce. The large, fat scallop that sat on top of the whole dish was just gorgeous!
The last event on Thursday (and by this point I was severely flagging!) was the eHarlequin pyjama party. It’s great fun, but I’d forgotten how mortifying it can be to wander through the vast lobby of an international hotel in just my night clothes! I managed to stay about an hour and then I just crashed.
I’ll leave you with a before and after of the Washington Post front page for Friday 17th July 2009. First, the mock-up we were handed in the conference and then the real front page: