Thursday, May 24, 2018

#33Stories: Day 24, "Paper Boy," a novel

No. 24: “Paper Boy: A novel about media, truth and other important things.”
Other entries in #33Stories at the Table of Contents. See you tomorrow!
Excerpt follows this synopsis

Since we’ve been on the topic of newspapers lately, I present “Paper Boy,” subtitled “A Novel About Media, Truth and Other Important Things.”

I wrote this unpublished book several years ago, during the first wave of turmoil that the digital revolution wrought upon the venerable print-journalism industry. Set inside the fictitious Daily Tribune, published in the real city of Boston, it chronicles the journey that popular columnist Nick and colleagues take as the once-proud and Pulitzer-winning paper’s new owners insist that the ridiculous mantra of “Good News Rules” is the key not only to survival but to restored glory.

Meaning, write “good” stuff to balance the “bad” headlines of crime, crooked politics and so forth.

Write “good” stories because that’s what readers and advertisers want, and “Good New Rules” is the key to reversing declining circulation and ad revenues.

Write it, even if that means taking certain liberties with the truth.

Fake news. Sound prescient?

The sub-narrative concerns a love story of a sort, and an exploration of the meaning of miracles and faith.

And fraud.

So that’s the synopsis.

“Paper Boy,” Table of Contents:

-- Chapter One: Market Value.
-- Chapter Two: E.B. White.
-- Chapter Three: Visions.
-- Chapter Four: Live at Six.
-- Chapter Five: Perceived Motion.
-- Chapter Six: Football.
-- Chapter Seven: Sacred Waters.
-- Chapter Eight: The Other Side.
-- Chapter Nine: A Reliable Source.
-- Chapter Ten: Conflicts of Interest.
-- Chapter Eleven: Full Disclosure.
-- Chapter Twelve: Extraordinary Things.

Excerpt from Chapter 12. This scene opens inside The Tribune’s pressroom, as the next day’s edition is about to roll:

We found press foreman Roger Adams standing by the master controls. One of his men was loading the redone page-one plates. Like me, Adams went back a long way with the executive editor.

``I'm sorry about the verdict,'' said Adams. ``What a kick in the teeth, especially on Christmas Eve. If it means anything, I was with you one hundred percent. That son of a bitch got your kid, no question. Not that it don't take balls to stand up to him like you did. I admire you, Bob. It couldn't have been easy testifying.''

``You'd do the same thing in my shoes,'' said Bob. ``Anybody would.''

``Anybody but Poop Man,'' said Adams. Even production hadn't escaped the consultants: Adams had arrived at work yesterday to find he'd lost three of his men.

``And Chamberlain,'' I said. ``Don't forget him.''

``Birds of a feather,'' said Adams. ``Well, looks like we're ready to roll. You staying for the run?''

``At least the first few thousand,'' said Bob.

``You, too, Nick?''

``Me too.''

``By the way,'' said Adams, ``I read your column. Hell of a piece of work. Said a lot of things I've been thinking since the sale. 'Course, your ass is toast the second I hit this button.''

``Actually, my ass already is toast,'' I said. ``So is Bob's. We got fired.''

``I'm sorry,'' said Adams.

``For what?'' said Bob. ``My only regret is Hill will be in surgery when this hits the streets. What I wouldn't give to see the look on his face.''

``Press time, boys,'' Adams said. ``Maybe you'd like to start 'er up, Nick. Or you, Bob.''

``All yours, Bob,'' I said.

Adams passed us ear protectors and safety glasses, then showed Bob the commands on the control panel. Bob worked them and the presses slowly began to turn.

``Sitting in an office all day, you forget the power this thing has,'' said Bob. ``I remember my first job -- Christ, it's almost fifty years ago now. They still had hot type. I'd watch them pour it, then go out in the press room and wait for the first copies. Of course, that press wasn't anywhere near this big, but it still seemed invincible. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but there's something about this that a monitor can't equal. This is real, not pixels on a screen.''

Adams and his newly-short staff pulled a few copies of the paper off the belts and gave them a quick once-over. Satisfied, they let Bob rev the press up to full speed.

The telephone woke me on Christmas morning. It was eleven o'clock on a raw and foggy day. I'd slept almost twelve hours.

``Hello?'' I said.

It was Courtney.

``I just wanted to wish you Merry Christmas,'' she said.

``Merry Christmas,'' I said.

``You probably didn't expect me to call.''

``I've given up expecting things anymore.''

``For what it's worth, I loved your column. I don't know how you got it in the paper, but congratulations.''

``You don't think I sounded like Chicken Soup for the Soul?''

``Can I be honest -- in a couple of places, yes. But you told the truth. The truth can be devastating.''

``I guess it beats socks,'' I said.

``Your words, not mine.''

``It must be a miracle.''

Courtney laughed. ``Careful,'' she said. ``It's a short trip from profound to sophomoric.''

``Tell me about it.''

``Are you going out there today?''

``I'm not sure,'' I said.

``I think you have to,'' Courtney said. ``You can't just slip quietly into the night after all this.''
She was right. It's one thing to present truths, another to be accountable.

``Will you be there?'' I said.

``Would you like me to?''

``I would.''

``Then maybe I will.''

``Strange mood here today,'' said Officer Maloney as he escorted me through the crowd outside Louise's, which numbered more than twenty thousand, according to the policeman's estimate.

``In what way?'' I said.

``I can't tell if they're happy or sad. Or angry. I seen a lot of people reading your column. I hear a lot of grumbling.''

``What did you think?'' I said.

``Pretty heavy stuff,'' said the cop, ``but you told it from the heart. It's the kind of column you don't see much of anymore.''

``You didn't think the end was silly.''

``Sentimental, maybe,'' the policeman said. ``But not silly. Silly don't make you stop and think like that.''

I could barely make out Louise's house through the fog, but I could see that the shades were drawn and there was no sign of activity except for officers on horses behind the police tape. The authorities had never called out the mounted patrol before.

``Have you seen her today?'' I asked Maloney.

``Only for a second, when I came on duty. She poked her head out and said she might come out later, but not to plan on it. Then she told me not to let anyone in -- not even you. Sorry, Nick. I don't think she liked your column.''

We moved toward the altar, where Mass was underway. The priest was just beginning Communion, and lines were forming for the deacons who assisted him.

I stood to the side, wishing the fog were thicker. I wanted to crawl back behind the First Amendment.

And yet, I was strangely calm as I ascended the altar when the Mass ended. I'd spotted Courtney in the crowd and I noticed that Ethan Cottrill was there, too. Seeing me approach, the priest guided me to the lectern. I tapped the microphone -- and felt the eyes of twenty thousand on me.

``I know many of you have already seen this,'' I said, unfolding today's paper, ``but I wanted to read it to you myself. Then I'll be happy to take questions.''

I cleared my throat and began…

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