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Hold The Front Page / 16 октября 2007 г.

The spirit of Hildy Johnson is alive and well and living in Florida, says David Grimes.

Copyright © News Design Associates Inc.

A former newspaper reporter of my acquaintance recently won more than $35,000 on the television show Jeopardy! She identified a lot of tough questions over the course of three days and was even able to identify a Czech opera composer by the name of Bedrich Smetana.

It’s a sad day for journalism when a former newspaper reporter can go on national TV and correctly identify someone with a name like Bedrich Smetana. In defence, all I can say is that the woman’s newspaper career was relatively brief and that she now works for an artsy magazine that has been known to publish entire articles about opera and ballet and who knows what else. She insists, rather too often, I think, that she is very happy.

I have a tough time imagining Hildy Johnson going on Jeopardy! or any other show that requires knowledge of Czechoslovakian opera, Reformation poetry or Russian ballet. Hildy, the star of the famous 1931 newspaper movie, The Front Page, slept in a suit and poured his breakfast from a bottle he kept in his desk drawer. He used two fingers to type his stories on an old Underwood and would yell, “Stop the presses!” when he had an especially sensational scoop. As far as game shows went, Hildy probably would have been over his head on Wheel of Fortune, but he might have done OK on Family Feud.

You don’t see too many Hildy Johnsons around newsrooms these days. The good old Underwoods have been replaced by glowing computer terminals, and if you look in a reporter’s desk drawer, you’re more likely to find an asceptically-packaged box of organic soybean drink than a bottle of rot-gut whiskey.

In Hildy’s day, the newsroom was a chaotic place of jangling telephones, screaming editors, clacking typewriters and chattering wire machines.

Today’s newsroom is carpeted, air conditioned and decorated in restful shades of mauve and beige. At deadline, there is an electricity in the air similar to what you might find in the reference room of the public library.

Modern newspaper editors almost never go berserk and hurl their ashtrays through the office window. One reason for this is that editors don’t have time to pitch fits because they’re too busy going to meetings. If an editor feels the urge to yell at someone, he or she is encouraged to attend a meeting until the feeling goes away.

In Hildy’s day, reporters competed for the privilege of covering an execution and often succeeded in winning the condemned man a last-minute reprieve. Today, reporters compete for the privilege of writing a 12-part series on agricultural run-off. In Hildy’s day, reporters liked to relax on the floor of the neighborhood saloon. Today, reporters like to relax by competing in triathlons and discussing the merits of various brands of imported mineral water. Today’s reporters almost always have a college education, and many have travelled abroad and learned foreign languages.

Hildy started out in the business as a paper boy and is only partly fluent in English and doesn’t know anything of the world beyond his newspaper’s circulation area. On the plus side, Hildy does not have to attend benefits seminars, and he is not subjected to annual performance reviews.

Newspapers are probably better now than they were in Hildy Johnson’s day, but I’m sure they aren’t as much fun.

David Grimes is a writer with the Sarasota Herald Reporter in Florida.

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