Home The newsroom in the 21st century: The good, the bad, the uglier

The newsroom in the 21st century: The good, the bad, the uglier

Rebecca Barnabi
(© Zoran Zeremski – stock.adobe.com)

I have a confession to make.

I’ve never actually seen an episode of the 2005-2013 NBC TV show “The Office.”

I enjoy laughing, but when watching TV, I usually watch the dramas and reality shows.

Hey, I’m a journalist because I am a serious person.

However, a reboot of the TV show and a column by my colleague reminded me of the hijinks and near misdemeanors I’ve witnessed in office settings.

And why I’m again thankful that I now work from home. Co-workers can be a blessing, but some are a curse.

The worst was probably an editor I had at a weekly newspaper in Virginia who thought it was morally justifiable to “rewrite” articles and not give the original reporter and/or publication credit.

When the day came that he expected me to do the same, and “rewrite” an article that a colleague wrote at a daily newspaper I used to work for, I did not mince words in explaining why I would not be following his lead.

A year later, I found myself at a bi-weekly newspaper in Maryland where the managing editor, I later learned, had been removed from a sister paper 10 years earlier and placed at that paper after screaming at a features reporter one day to the point that she left the newsroom in tears. This incident was the last straw after several of disrespectful behavior toward reporters.

But he picked up where he left off and resumed the abhorrent behavior. At least once a week after editing a story of mine, he would come over to my desk, stand within two feet of me sitting at my desk, yell about a recent story I wrote and walk away. If you asked me in the next minute which story he was upset about or why, I could not have explained.

Until Memorial Day weekend 2015. I knew I was job searching and would be out of there within months, so when he came to yell at me, I yelled back and he just yelled again. The point: screaming and yelling at someone is not communication. It’s manipulation and immaturity.

Also at that newspaper, I worked with a reporter in her 20s who, along with another reporter, welcomed me with warm, open arms when I first joined the staff. Another reporter later told me they “love bombed” me in the beginning. Bombed indeed. Within a year, the one reporter got upset with me because I could not switch weekend duty with her and cover the weekend after Thanksgiving when she waited until the week before to ask me, and my family lived an hour away. Her family was right there in the town in which we worked.

She got so angry she walked away, opened a door and went toward the lunch room. I was following her to also go to the lunch room, and she let the door slam in my face. The web editor still reminds me of that story to this day because she loved my reaction: I laughed. There is no point in acknowledging a child’s behavior.

In late 2015, I found myself at my fourth and final newspaper, and back in Virginia. Now I had an editor who worked 16 plus hours a day and did not regularly shower. After a few months, I realized that when I walked into his office, the odor I smelled was him.

Once when he was ill with a cold, I offered to take a night shift for him, but he refused. He was either that much of a control freak or workaholic.

I also suspected he was speaking poorly of me behind my back to his bosses, which was confirmed for me when he left less than a year after I joined the staff. But, when I confronted him, he denied saying anything negative about me or my work. I later learned from an HR representative that she repeatedly had to remind that editor of what he could and could not say to his reporters and staff members, and how he should treat them.

About a year after leaving for a sister newspaper, he was fired.

The next editor I had at that newspaper was not much easier. In fact, his trouble was not being a workaholic, but just not showing up for work and pushing his responsibilities onto me and two reporters. Then accusing us of having attitudes because he wasn’t doing his job.

His behavior escalated until I had to report him to HR after he threatened me twice. Yet, they did not remove him for more than a year.

A few years passed at the same newspaper and a young reporter was job searching at the same time I was, and also looking to buy a house. She frequently searched for jobs, applied for jobs and searched for houses on her personal laptop at the office while I was busy proofing pages on night shift, covering local meetings and writing stories.

The same young reporter, I later learned, was applying to jobs I told her I applied for. I found out when I got an interview for a job I really wanted and she was angry because she had also applied but did not get an interview.

After that reporter left, a reporter immediately out of college joined the staff just before COVID-19. On a Sunday I was off and out of town, he called me asking if he had to show up for work because it was snowing. I told him that the day my grandmother died in 2017, I showed up for work. Weather was never an excuse to miss work at that newspaper, and I was not his supervisor to tell him what to do or not do. He needed to call our editor. Needless to say, that kid lasted only a few more weeks.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.