About The Paper

The Best Journalism Film Ever

By Larry King and Paul Schindler

Larry King began the exchange:

By the way, your column mentions that you think The Paper is the all-time best journalism movie. I'd agree, although it necessarily omits the bonecrushing boredom of much newspaper work and truly awe-inspiring stupidity and cowardice of a lot of newspaper editors.

From time to time, I've idly wondered who wrote the screenplay -- too idly to look it up. Have you any idea? I assume it was somebody who once worked at the New York Post.

My favorite scene comes in that exchange when Spaulding Gray, playing an editor at what's clearly meant to be the New York Times, tells Michael Keating he's just blown his chance to cover the world. Keating screams back that he doesn't care, because he doesn't live in the world, he lives in New York City.

According to the Internet Movie Database, your favorite line (and one of mine) goes like this:

"Oh yeah? Well guess fuckin' what? I don't really fuckin' care. You wanna know fuckin' why? Because I don't live in the fuckin' world, I live in New York City! So go fuck yourself."

Writers are David Koepp and Stephen Koepp. The Paper is the only thing Stephen has ever written; David has written 15 films, most notably Toy Soldiers, Jurrasic Park 1 and 2, and the forthcoming Spiderman. Stephen must have gotten the feel of The Post from hanging around with reporters, or else newspapering in Waukesha is a lot more exciting than I imagined, because here's his bio:

Koepp, 42, a Wisconsin native, received a B.A. degree (journalism major, German minor) from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 1978. After graduation he joined the Waukesha Freeman, a daily newspaper in Wisconsin, where he worked as a news reporter and city editor. At the Freeman, he won a statewide wire-service award for investigative reporting.

Koepp joined TIME magazine in 1981. He started in letters to the editor, spent the 80s writing business, and is now Deputy Managing Editor.

Larry responded:

I would guess the non-screen-writing Koepp learned all he needed about newspapers from the Waukesha Freeman. One of the depressing things about newspapering is how little changes going from a fifth-rate rag in a one-horse town to the New York Times. You get some smarter people in the newsroom, and a lot more of them, at a big-city daily. Generally, management is a bit less miserly about things like travel. So the product improves. But the day-to-day grind of being a reporter or working editor looks and feels much the same, I think.

Come to think of it, you're right about newspapering. While I only worked one daily (the Oregon Journal), and you worked several, I have seen enough newsrooms to know that you are speaking the truth. The workload, the physical surroundings, the average IQ--these things can all change. But the basics of the business do not. Well, except for one other thing: in large cities, novel and interesting things happen. In smaller towns, even a city the size of Portland, Oregon (500k), the traditional definition of news leaves you covering the same events over and over, especially if you're a beat reporter (I worked in the business department).

Larry got the last word:

You're right, the one really significant difference between big dailies and small ones, besides the money, is that big ones are in big towns and small ones are in small towns, and things happen in big towns that don't happen in small ones, despite what thousands of novels and movies have had to say about ``ripping the veil off the quiet complacency of a small town to reveal the passions and scandal gurgling underneath.'' Or words to that effect.

But there's a disadvantage to that, if you're working at a big-city daily. The news-hole at the New York Times is not vastly larger than it is at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, or for that matter the (Portland) Oregonian. The guys at the Times have got a lot more to stuff into it, though. So you can have a pretty good story, one that would get a real splash back in Lake Woebegone, and it gets turned into a brief or lost altogether at the Times.

And I expect that gets held against you. I've never worked at the Times or the Post, but I've got some friends who have, and they say you run a risk there of getting a bad reputation through sheer bad luck. If you're on the Brooklyn cop beat and a few big crime stories happen to break in Manhattan over a couple of months, the boss editors start looking at you with a jaundiced eye, wondering why you're not ``producing.''

You are producing, course. It's the local bad guys who aren't producing, or at any rate not producing the kind of eye-catching atrocity that makes for a nice headline and a snappy lede. Boss editors at that point always forget that they were the ones who sent you to Brooklyn when all the bad guys were romping through Manhattan. It's not their lack of judgment but your lack of industry that comes in for discussion.

To obtain a weekly reminder when new columns are posted or to offer feedback, advice, praise, or criticism write to me: paul@schindler.org

Family photos 1, 2, 3

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