Newsroom Nightmare: A Sequel

by Bill Brenner on April 23, 2010

Another Facebook flashback strikes the author on his dirty newsroom side of the brain.

Mood music for this post: “Mean Street” from Van Halen:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2R2KXNQR1M&hl=en_US&fs=1&]

I thought I was done writing about my newsroom experiences with “The Crazy-Ass Guy in the Newsroom.” But Facebook has put me back in touch with another blast from my past, so here I go again.

Meet Steve Lambert, editor of The Eagle-Tribune a decade ago. He hired me as night editor and promoted me to assistant editor for New Hampshire.

When he left for California in 2002, I was put back on the night desk. Good thing, too. I was within inches of smashing my direct supervisor in the side of the head with a bat after his management style drove me within inches of a nervous breakdown. I would have been fired and brought up on charges for doing such a thing, but I would have been a hero among some of my newsroom colleagues.

Still, I’m glad it didn’t come to that because it would have been wrong. And the reality is that my insanity back then made me as evil a newsroom presence as the supervisor was heavy-handed and ruthless.

I always liked Steve, though. We shared a love of The Beatles and I respected his efforts to make the paper more of a voice for New Hampshire and, later, Lawrence Massachusetts’ Latino community. He took a lot of criticism for the latter, which ended in spectacular failure. It really got under the skin of a lot of bitter Hispanic haters, which is why I think I loved it.

He also did a lot to bring more humanity to the newsroom. He gave low-level people like me a shot at bigger things, and always let us put family before work. It’s hard to find that in a newsroom, though The Eagle-Tribune does deserve credit for nurturing a deep family streak. The current managing editor, Gretchen Putnam, balances a demanding job with being one of the best Moms around in a way that would make a lot of journalists envious. It’s very easy for reporters and editors to put every egg of their existence into the career basket, and that never, ever ends well.

Back to Lambert. He may not realize it — or maybe he did — but I was Grade-A nuts during the time I was in his employ.

I was all about pleasing my masters back then, before I realized being a people-pleaser is dumb. When Lambert wasn’t happy about something the NH edition had done, I kept it with me for weeks at a time. I brooded. I gave in to my addictive behavior in the nastiest fashion I could. I felt picked on.

Let me be honest: Most of my troubles back then were nobody’s fault but mine. I had a brain chemistry imbalance and bottled-up traumas that I wouldn’t become fully aware of for another couple years.

I was a major control freak, which is an OCD trademark. I had an ego much bigger than I deserved to have. That combination slammed into the wall at The Eagle-Tribune, because criticism and toughness are trademarks of the culture. That’s not always a bad thing. But in the hands of someone who takes things deeply personal, it becomes toxic.

The stress level was already high when I realized I wasn’t clicking with the New Hampshire editor. It felt like disaster was just around the corner. And it was.

I remember the newsroom on 9-11-01 like it were yesterday. The first World Trade Center tower had just collapsed on the TV screen mounted above Lambert’s office. He came out, stood on a desk and told everyone to collect themselves a minute, because this would be the most important story we ever covered.

Up to that point, it was. But I was so full of fear and anxiety that my ability to function was gone. I spent most of the next few days in the newsroom, but did nothing of importance. I was a shell. And I stayed that way until I finally left the paper in early 2004.

I thought all my emotional trouble was solved when I left that place. I so badly wanted the job to be that one thing I could point to as the root cause of my pain; the thing I could hate for life.

But my mental nightmare was only beginning.

Looking back, that period was probably the beginning of the end, a time of madness where I was close to rock-bottom and had to change, but wasn’t yet in tune to reality.

It was not a happy time. But I’m glad I worked with Lambert. He’s a good man.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Steve Lambert May 12, 2010 at 7:28 am

Thank you for the kind words, Bill. You too are a good man, and a brave one. Thanks for sharing.

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