THE best thing about being a newspaper reporter is working on a big story. A big story is what it’s all about in the news business. It gets your adrenaline flowing. It makes you remember why you wanted to be a reporter in the first place. It makes you forget about all the problems in your life. A big story always makes everything better.
I did not have a big story.
Gil Malloy, the hotshot reporter, did not have anything to report.
It was 9 a.m., and I was sitting in the newsroom with my feet up on my desk, sipping black coffee and pondering this dilemma—along with trying to remember exactly why I had ordered that last tequila the night before—when the phone rang.
“There’s someone here to see you, Malloy,” said Zeena, the receptionist outside the New York Daily News offices.
“Who is it?”
“What’s her name?”
“She didn’t say.”
“What does she want?”
“She says she has a news story.”
“What kind of a news story?”
“She didn’t tell me.”
Zeena was a practitioner of the minimalist school of receptionists. She never gave you anything more than she had to. Getting information from her was like interrogating a prisoner at Gitmo.
“Have her talk to one of the other reporters,” I said.
“She asked for you.”
“I don’t do walk-in news tipsters.”
“I’m a TV star now, remember?”
“Stacy was looking for you before you came in.”
Stacy Albright was the city editor of the Daily News.
“Any idea what she wanted?”
“Where is she now?”
“Good job, Zeena,” I said.
After I hung up, I checked my voicemail just in case the Pulitzer people had called, Hillary Clinton wanted to do an exclusive sit-down interview, or Bob Woodward was looking for any reporting tips from me. There was a series of messages. All of them from the same person. Peggy Kerwin.
I listened to them one after another. The basic highlights were that she really wanted to see me again, she thought we hit it off as a great team, and—if you read between the lines of what she was saying—she hoped to be the mother of my babies.
Now I remembered why I’d had that last tequila.
To try to forget about Peggy Kerwin.
Peggy Kerwin was the worst kind of date. Nice woman, decent looking, good job. But she was completely boring. She talked about working at some big accounting firm, about her family, about her
life and dreams and world peace and a zillion other things during the entire damn evening. By after-dinner drinks, she’d made my Top 10 list of all-time worst dates. Hence, that final tequila.
Marilyn Staley, the Daily News managing editor, walked over to my desk. Marilyn was in her fifties, had a husband and two kids in Westchester, and was my city editor at the News for many years. Then she got fired when the paper went through a big youth movement—stressing a digital-first strategy, enhanced social media presence, and total demographic makeover—that they decided she was too old to be a part of. They told her she didn’t understand what the new media newspapers needed to embrace in order to survive. But eventually they realized that they needed someone like Marilyn to . . . well, run the news. So they hired her back and promoted her to managing editor. Go figure. As editors go, she was all right. Of course, the bar isn’t set very high when it comes to newspaper editors.
“What are you doing, Gil?” she asked.
“You look hungover.”
“Yeah, well there’s that too.”
“I had the date from hell.”
“You’re getting too old for this.”
“But I still have my boyish charm, right?”
I sipped on some more of the black coffee. It helped.
“Any idea what Stacy wants to talk to me about?”
“Ah, yes. Our nationally renowned crime fighter and potential future mayor.”
“I think he wants to drop a big trial balloon about his candidacy for mayor through the News. Do it with you on the air as part of Live from New York. Stacy thinks that would be a terrific opportunity
to promote us as a new media/print crossover. We put it on the air, we live tweet it, we post podcasts on the website, and eventually, of course, we put it in the paper.”
Life used to be so much simpler for me.
I was a newspaper reporter, which is all I’d ever wanted to be. I rose from cub reporter to star writer to columnist at the Daily News like a skyrocket. I thought it would always be like that for me. But then things went horribly wrong—some of which were my fault and some that weren’t. I almost got fired from the paper, then did get fired at another point—but wound up breaking a couple of front page stories that got the Daily News national attention. Now I was a star again. Just not in the same way as before.
Somewhere along the line the paper decided to take advantage of all the notoriety I’d gotten by using me as a publicity vehicle. I wound up doing a lot of webcasts, social media live chats with the readers, and making appearances on TV and radio and everywhere on the Internet to promote the paper’s biggest stories.
Then, a few months ago, Stacy came up with the idea to partner with a local TV news station to promote our big stories on air. It is called Live From New York. We talk about the news the paper is covering and give viewers an inside look at the Daily News people who are covering it. At the same time, the telecast is livestreamed on both of our websites. Guess who Stacy picked to be a big part of it? That’s right: yours truly.
Now I was on TV regularly talking about the big news stories—even more than I was actually reporting them. It was heady stuff, I must admit. People recognized me on the street, there was more money, it was kinda neat being a broadcast celebrity. But I missed being a real reporter.
Marilyn Staley sat down now in front of my desk.
I asked her if she wanted to hear all the details about my date the night before.
She said she’d just as soon not.
“Hey, is that a touch of gray you’re getting there?” she said to me.
“What are you talking about?”
“Your hair. I see a speckle or two of gray.”
“Probably just the light in here makes it look like that.”
“Sure, I guess that’s it,” Marilyn agreed.
I looked out the window next to my desk. Spring had finally come to New York City. We’d had a helluva winter—four months of relentless snow, ice, and cold that seemed like it would go on forever. Now I could see the sun shining brightly, people walking on the sidewalk outside in their shirtsleeves. It was as if Mother Nature had finally said, “Enough already.”
I loved spring. My favorite season of the year. A time for new beginnings, a fresh start, another chance to make right all the things in your life that had gone wrong in the year before. Spring always cheered me up and made me feel young again and optimistic about the future.
“Damn, that’s going to bum me out all day,” I said.
“Your comment about me getting gray hairs.”
“Getting gray hair isn’t the worst thing in the world, Gil.”
“Not the best either.”
“How old are you?”
“I just turned thirty-eight.”
“Well, people do start turning gray at that age. And somehow they still manage to go on with their lives.”
“You mean like George Clooney?”
“An apt one too.”
“You’re telling me you think you look like George Clooney?”
“On his good days.”
Marilyn sighed and stood up. She had a higher threshold for
my personality than most people did at the News, but I think I’d just about reached it with her. She started to walk away toward her office, then stopped and turned around.
“By the way, there’s a woman waiting outside to see you,” she said.
“So I heard.”
“She apparently wants to talk to you about a story.”
“Yeah, people keep telling me that.”
“Do you know what the story is?”
“No, Zeena didn’t feel compelled to ask her that question.”
“The woman’s name is Victoria Issacs.”
I stared at Marilyn.
“Do you know her?” she asked.
Yeah, I knew her, all right.
Not really as Victoria Issacs though.
I remembered her by another name.