Wednesday, May 28, 2008

'Paper' Route

From the second I read Ginia Bellafante's review in The Times of "The Paper" last month I had a pit in my stomach. Although I was completely intrigued by the idea of a reality show set in the newsroom of a high school paper (newspapers are embedded in my family's DNA, after all), I was afraid it would stir up too many painful adolescent memories, something I've done my best to convince myself I've gotten past. Still, the lure of the newspaper was overwhelming. As far back as I can remember I've been working for one in some fashion or another. When I was 9 my brothers and I set up shop in the basement of our house in Madison Heights, Mich., and self-published the Hiller News. (We weren't going to let the fact that our crack elementary school didn't even have a newspaper class stop us, and Scrabble tiles made for nifty name plaques anyway.)

(click to enlarge)

The spirit duplicator -- aka "ditto" machine -- was my first introduction to the joy of poppers

While it didn't last long -- Woodward and Bernstein had just brought down a president and Principal Kwapisz wasn't about to let us do the same thing to him after Billy wrote that scathing op-ed blowing the lid off the lunch ladies not doing their job and he shut us down after just a few issues -- the seed had been planted and none of us ever looked back. (But seriously, were the lunch ladies afraid of the students, and was the "snowball area" only created to save the supervisors the extra work needed to keep kids out of other trouble, so they would at least kill each other with snowballs "peacefully"? To this day, no one has ever satisfactorily answered any of these questions.)

So despite my ambivalent feelings, I tuned in to see the kids who produce The Circuit at Cypress Bay High School in Weston, Fla., hoping it would at least function as a serviceable madeleine. Instead, all of my most dreaded memories came rushing back -- the cliques, the backstabbing, the bickering, the insecurities, the ganging up on one another. While I'm sure the staff had its reasons for not wanting Amanda to be editor in chief (her Type A personality is hardly my cup of tea), at least she's tries. (Maybe I'm defending her because she's a former copy editor and I have career-trajectory-envy.) And the truth of the matter is she's far more Valerie Cherish than she is Bonnie Fuller. Once she was selected for the job, though, one would have hoped the other students would at least try to act like human beings. Instead, Amanda's former best friend turned deputy, Alex, spent the entire semester pouting like a 2-year-old (and I'm being kind) and undermining her every move. Meanwhile, news editor Giana might be the most hateful person on reality TV since Omarosa. She sweated venom through every episode and had nothing nice to say about anyone or anything. Her boyfriend wasn't much nicer either. (They truly deserve each other, assuming she doesn't run off with that Asian Superstudent.) The rest of the "back row" are no better, and while they seem to think their mutual refusal to try to work with Amanda is "cool," it comes off as pathetic more than anything. (One bright spot: advertising manager Adam managed to be so lovably gay flamboyant that he was elected homecoming king and seems to be the most popular guy in school!)

I've now seen all eight episodes (I watched the finale last night) and while the series didn't manage to help me refurbish any childhood memories, it did succeed in reminding me why I either participated from a distance or quit every school club, team or organization I ever joined, including my three school newspapers: Kids are cruel. It also succeeded at something far more important. As much as I like to joke that all of life is a form of high school -- the cool people, the smart people, the popular people, and the politics of it all -- the truth of the matter is my entire professional career has been filled with smart, generous and supportive people. Who've thunk it would take a teenybopper show on MTV to make me realize just how fortunate I've been.

UPDATE: FourFour has a brilliant play-by-play analysis of "The Paper" here.
Related: The Making of a Teenage Editorzilla (NYT)
Teenage Newshounds, It’s a Dog-Eat-Dog World (NYT)

A Family Affair

My grandfather Mickey Walsh, far left, cranks out his sports column at The Pottsville Republican circa February 1938; I return to the scene of the crime circa May 2005


Jeff said...

What I found amusing about the show is that the editing heavily focused on how most of the main characters despised and hated Amanda as their editor-in-chief, yet Amanda was never shown as actually being the evil bitch as they claimed she was. If anything, she wanted everybody to come together to work as a team. Though she did have her aggressive moments, it's difficult to be a journalist and not have those moments.

While her conspirators never succeed in overthrowing her, what they did do was manage to do was appear childish and deceitful sometimes to the point of being pathetic.

With that said, I adore Amanda Lorber. At least the personality that was portrayed on TV, which I actually want to buy is the real Amanda (or at least a major part of her). She's the coolest person on the show, and only because she practically flaunts her nutty dorkiness.

A link for further reading from somebody who shares my adoration for Amanda:

Anonymous said...

Kenneth, I know where your old Principal lives if you want to get answers to your questions! LOL

Anonymous said...

Great! I noticed the "Hiller News" looked like it may have been thrown in a waste basket somewhere along the line. How great to see the talent at such a young age. Also noticed big brother Bill was running things even back then !!

Anonymous said...

Loved The Paper, but dude, Kenneth - they're kids. Teenagers. You're taking them, and the show, way too seriously.