Scooped

This is for the Flash Fiction Challenge: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/06/28/flash-fiction-challenge-down-the-tv-tropes-rabbit-hole/

On TVtropes, first roll I got:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/OutOfTheGhetto

Scooped

It had to break on a Monday.

Jim was barely back into work mode. He just needed to get out of this meeting with his skin intact. Then he’d have the time to process and plan.

Many generations of journalists had taken up the banner once carried by Woodward and Bernstein, but he wondered if this latest revelation had advanced the flag of journalism or used it as toiled paper.

Jim still had a few years between himself and 40, but the world moved quickly and each paradigm shift made it harder for him to consider himself “with it.”

This was the sort of meeting that everyone suffered through. He wanted to get out of it with his standing intact. Ideally, no one would worry about assigning blame when they needed to be assigning stories. It didn’t always go down that way.

A metaphorical heir to the two reporters who had brought down a President had appeared around 9 a.m., less than two hours ago. Morning news was the worst. Newspapers, even with 24-hour web sites, just weren’t as well equipped as the TV news channels to handle news throughout the day. By the time this went to press, it would be profoundly important old news.

Jim, the Washington Post’s national editor, oversaw a group of reporters who had a more direct claim to the legacy. He had risen to his job with hard work and a knack for putting himself in position to receive high-profile credit. The industry’s recent taste for cheap labor had also thinned the herd of more experienced rivals.

They’d been beaten. So had everyone else in the industry, but that never made it feel any better. A major political figure was going down in flames, but not at the hands of their keyboard. This was the kind of opportunity that none of them might see again, and it was already gone.

The whiff of dry-erase marker mixed with cheap office coffee to produce a sort of bleary alertness throughout the conference room.

He wasn’t the highest ranking editor in the room, but this news fell under his domain and it seemed better to start the ripping rather than wait to receive it.

“We’re going to get to what we’re going to do about this in a minute,” Jim said. “First, I’m going to get my pound of flesh as to why this woman has been in Washington for a year without this being uncovered.”

Not quite a dozen faces, younger as a group than they would have been before the endless layoffs, studied the suddenly fascinating notebooks in front of them. They scribbled important notes and avoided eye contact.

Most still felt a bit odd without smartphones in hand, but they knew better than to have them in hand during a staff meeting. Jim had no patience for that transgression. How could you be a reporter if you lacked the basic ability to pay attention to people in the same room?

“This is real,” Jim said. “This has legs. This has been out there since the before the confirmation. It’s been sitting there, waiting for someone to find it, since the moment she was nominated to the Court. Certainly it was there for the entire confirmation.”

Jim took a sip of coffee to give his pronouncement a chance to sink in. He relaxed a little. The room was his.

“Alayna, I need you to read every word of the Justice’s paper. Joanna, you need to be able to write the case on why we know it’s hers even without her name on it. We know it, but you need to be able to explain it better than anyone in the country, in print and on TV.”

The irony that even now he wasn’t listing the internet was not lost on him, but if Jim had any ideas on how to make newspapers more relevant on the Web, he would have used them a long time ago.

The story pie was cut into more slices and handed out. The breakdown of main story and sidebars would be fleshed out throughout the rest of the day. Almost all would have a shared byline, which wouldn’t make the reporters happy. That suited Jim, because he didn’t want them to be happy. He wasn’t happy.

A few questions popped up. Some reporters needed clarification on their assignment, others wanted to hack out quibbles over potential overlaps before anyone got out there and started duplicating work. Jim paused just long enough to see if any of his graying superiors wanted to jump in, but they were content to let him keep the reins to the end.

Phones materialized as the meeting broke up, and reporters spread out to their desks. He watched to see if any of them grabbed keys and headed toward the parking lot, but none did. He waited to see if any of his bosses called him in for a come-to-Jesus, but none did.

This wasn’t how it used to be.

He trudged to his office and sat down, flicking the mouse to break the screen saver, and began to monitor what everyone else had. A 23-year-old from Texas, apparently with a moderate following in local news in the college town that had proudly produced native daughter Justice Laura Benitez, had went public with his findings this morning. More people had found it within 30 minutes than read the Washington Post in a week.

Jim took off his glasses and leaned into his pinched thumb and forefinger, eyes closed.
“Is 140 characters enough to win a Pulitzer?” he wondered.