Judgment Day: How Newsrooms Choose and Readers Lose

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(EDITOR’S NOTE: Warning. The following could very well be happening at a newsroom near you …)

SOMEBODY HOLLERS ACROSS THE NEWSROOM: Budget meeting in 5! Let’s go people! Bring yer best!!

<scrambling> <commotion> <cursing> <cursing> <cursing> <cursing> <cursing> …

<13 of the worst-dressed people you’ve ever seen in your entire life file into the managing editor’s office …>

MANAGING EDITOR: Good afternoon, ladies, gentlemen, and journalists. Page 1 time. What have we got so far? What’s the slammer?

WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Get this! We’ve confirmed Ginni Thomas sent the WH a slew of encouraging texts during the insurrection. Basically, it looks like the wife of a Supreme Court Justice was hoping the Capitol would burn, and Trump would be successful with the insurrection and overthrowing our government. Just unbelievable stuff.



MANAGING EDITOR: Riot. It was a riot. The crap that happened on 1/6 … We can’t say it was an insurrection.

WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: An insurrection by definition is a violent uprising against an authority or government. That’s exactly what we have here, boss.

MANAGING EDITOR: I don’t care. The word insurrection is loaded. We’ll get killed by the Right if we use that. Losing readers in the suburbs. Need to stay balanced. Let’s just stay with riot and move on.

WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Er, OK … But what about the texts?

MANAGING EDITOR: Good story, but I’m guessing Clarence had no idea what his nutball wife was doing. Let’s be careful how we play it. Hell, if we were all judged by what our wives were doing, we’d be in a world of shit, eh boys?!

<two guys nervously laugh>

WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: That’s, um, kind of sexist, no?

MANAGING EDITOR: No. If you have a gripe take it to the girls in HR. We’re on deadline here. Otherwise, work harder on that Thomas story. Right now you don’t have it, missy.

WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: We literally have her texts. And it’s implausible Thomas had no idea his wife was helping plan and then encourage the insurrection. This has never happened before. Not even close. Our Supreme Court might be compromised. This is literally the definition of news! Big news!!



MANAGING EDITOR: It was goddamn riot, and I don’t want to discuss it anymore!!!! People are sick and tired of this story, and mostly me.

MANAGING EDITOR: What else we got??? What are the gas prices doing? Are they still going up??? Our readers are outraged by this.

NATIONAL DESK: They actually dropped between 10-25 cents per gallon nationally.

MANAGING EDITOR: Shit. Well, we’re not running that.

NATIONAL DESK: Everybody could use a little good news, no?

MANAGING EDITOR: No. Good news has never sold a single paper. What, are you an idiot, too? Did everybody take idiot pills before coming in here today??? I might have the stupidest editors in the business. People don’t give a shit when stuff is cheap.

MANAGING EDITOR: Who has a goddamn front-page story???? Anybody??????

INTERNATIONAL DESK: You bet! Just gotta blockbuster before coming in here. Get this, Trump made a direct plea to Putin AGAIN. This time he wants Putin to go after Biden and this family!


INTERNATIONAL DESK: Yeah? And?!?! You have a former president and defacto leader of the Republican Party asking Putin for dirt on the sitting president!!! During a time of war!!! He’s already called Putin “savvy” and a “genius.” Said his strategy in Ukraine was “smart.” Putin is slaughtering innocent people and Trump calls this smart??? This is blockbuster, boss! Any doubt Trump’s a traitor?

MANAGING EDITOR: Yeah, well, nobody cares. He’s a moron, sure, and a traitor maybe … and he says the damndest things, but nobody takes him seriously anymore.

<dead silence in the room>

INTERNATIONAL DESK: He was elected president and later impeached twice in bipartisan votes because he was using these very authoritarian tactics he’s using now. Right now he is the frontrunner for the GOP nomination in 2024. By the looks and sound of it, he is an ascending dictator.

MANAGING EDITOR: Hillary’s fault. She was a shitty candidate and we all know that. If she’d run a half-decent campaign, we wouldn’t have to worry about all this. Instead, I’ve got you lapdogs in here pushing worn-out stories about Trump.

<more dead silence in the room>

MANAGING EDITOR: Look, people are sick and tired of this Trump shit. They’d think we were just piling on if we went big with his sidling up to Putin again. Let’s see where this goes. If Trump asks Putin for any more help, maybe we can give it 15 inches inside. I’m just not seeing anything new here. He gets along great with Putin which is hardly news. Now what else you got? Anything on the gas prices???

NATIONAL DESK: We already covered gas prices.

MANAGING EDITOR: Oh yeah. Think they’ve gone up yet?

LIFESTYLE EDITOR CHIMES IN QUIETLY: Well, we are into Day 6 of this Will Smith story. Nothing really new, but I guess he apologized for the 14th time. He resigned from the Academy, but nobody even knows what that means. He can still make movies.

MANAGING EDITOR: Tell me more. This is incredible. Resigning from an academy sure seems huge to me. Our readers have been crazy for this story. Have you seen the comments??? There were 11,478 of them after our initial story on this.


MANAGING EDITOR: No, not seriously. I am asking because I am not serious. Yes, seriously!!!! People are crazy for this story!

LIFESTYLE EDITOR: Umm, OK. We’ll keep following it. Thanks!


MANAGING EDITOR:  So … we got Will Smith for the front, which we can bump right up until deadline if we hear gas prices are going up. Anything else?

NATIONAL DESK: Just heard Merrick Garland might be giving a presser later. Could be very significant.

MANAGING EDITOR: Who’s Merrick Garland?


(D. Earl Stephens is a published author and finished up a 30-year career in journalism as the Managing Editor of Stars and Stripes. You can also find his work on Substack.)

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Lived everywhere. Started in Africa, then to America, then to Europe, then ... back to America, which lately seems to pride itself in going back. Almost made it 30 years in print journalism, before it all went bad. Really? Don’t think things are bad, eh? Who’s your new president, pal? How did that happen? Because it all went bad.

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