The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November means something special to everyone working in a newspaper newsroom.
It means Election Day pizza arrives!
Admittedly, the day should mean something to everyone. Democracy only works when everybody makes an informed vote. Yadda yadda yadda … you’ve heard all that before.
What you probably haven’t heard is how vital free pizza is to people covering democracy in action on your behalf.
To completely understand this, you need to hear a couple confessions about my chosen profession.
For one, it doesn’t pay terribly well, especially for a line of work that prefers you hold a college degree. Many reporters are closer to the poverty line than you know, yet they still have college loans to repay. I’m not saying they’re starving to death, but they certainly appreciate a free meal.
There’s an old joke about journalists, “if it’s free, it’s for me.” I personally won’t take free food at an event I’m covering out of an oversized ethical concern that it might look like I can be bought with food, but we don’t forbid people from accepting a sandwich or something while covering an assignment.
A second admission is that we don’t buy food for our employees very often. I can count on one hand the number of times per year I’ve bought lunch for our reporters.
Third, we don’t really hang out that much. Sure, we have regular meetings as a staff, but usually one person or another is missing from those, out covering the story du jour.
A fourth and final admission is there just aren’t that many of us around anymore in the building. Our staff shrunk over the years, some from advancements in technology, some from centralizing the design of our company’s Ohio newspapers and some from economic realities cutting into our staffing.
It’s really rare for us to sit down together, break bread and tell stories about our own lives and careers. As a young reporter, I loved hearing the veterans tell their stories about candidates or voters giving them a piece of their mind as they were scouting out what people thought about the issues of the day.
Now, as one of the grayer wolves in our pack, I end up telling a lot of stories about how things were, how things are and how some things will never change.
My favorite tale is of a rookie reporter not realizing you can’t talk to voters inside a voting location. When his coworkers heard of his misdeed, someone crafted a fake court summons for him to face charges of voter intimidation on the apparent letterhead of the county where he’d tripped up and put it in his mailbox. We all laughed when he looked like a ghost upon retrieving this summons, and it took a long time to help him see he was part of a newsroom prank.
Another favorite is of a voter vehemently cussing out a reporter who’d asked the person to help with exit polling. We like to ask voters why they voted the way they did, so we can give you some understanding of why a candidate won in our stories. She told us the reporter in no uncertain terms it was none of our business how she cast her votes, and we should stick our heads where the sun doesn’t shine just for asking her or anyone else. After the swearing subsided, the voter then asked the reporter what other people had said … because she was interested in their responses.
These are the kinds of tales we share on those Tuesday afternoons just before we head out to document another chapter in our democracy.
I noticed a lot of my old friends who left the profession posting photos on social media about the pizzas they bought themselves to maintain the old tradition from their newsroom days. You can even buy a “Newsroom Scents Election Night” candle that claims to smell like “late deadlines, stressed editors, free pizza, lukewarm coffee and democracy.”
There’s something about the camaraderie you never forget and grow to miss. While I could do without the late nights and the stresses of results coming in later than expected, that Election Day pizza makes it all worthwhile.
David Trinko is managing editor of The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest.