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Summer Postcards 2014

Stacks

By Matthew Q. Clarida

HARTFORD, Conn.—Just a few hours into my first day at the Hartford Courant, my supervisor told me that I would not be working in the main newsroom. Instead, he had me take a five-minute walk to a cluttered desk tucked away in the attic area of a state building that is ornate and, in many more ways than one, historic.

This summer, I’m writing in the Courant’s Capitol bureau, which is really just a collection of five desks in a fluorescently lit corner of the state Capitol, steps away from the sparkling office building that Connecticut’s lawmakers do much of their business in. Everything about this room—starting with the fact that I sit six feet away from a reporter who is supposed to be my competition but, so far, is closer to being my pal—is different than what I had experienced so far in journalism.

After realizing the odd competitive arrangement, which requires the reporters who work here to alternate between normal and hushed voices (so as not to tip off other outlets on news we might be breaking or angles we might be taking) I see another difference between what I expected and what I am at experiencing. Unlike at The Crimson, where we have just two or three bookshelves scattered throughout the newsroom (and I see news staffers approach those shelves maybe twice a week), everything at the Capitol bureau seems to be done on paper.

My desk is covered in papers that I am told are very important, and that I should not move: I glance at them and see that they are old government releases (Governor John Rowland’s defense papers for his 2004 impeachment hearings are by my right hand), newspapers from last week, last year, and probably even last century, and executive summaries of legislation. In other words, everything on my desk—and almost every sheet of paper in this room—represents something that I am far more accustomed to finding on the Internet.

The paper trail extends, quite literally (though there is a three-foot-wide path cleared for walking) to my boss’s desk. This reporter is a veteran of Connecticut politics, and he’s been at the helm of the Capitol bureau for most of the past 20 years. He is probably the worst culprit of paper dependence—even the other Courant reporters, who in no sense have gone green, make fun of him for this—and he is most fond of collecting phone numbers. On my third day, he brandishes an iPhone 4s, which the Courant has supplied him and other reporters. Noticing that his wall is covered in Post-it notes and his desk adorned with not one, not two, but three Rolodexes, I wonder out loud why he does not simply put the numbers into his phone’s contacts, as I have been trained.

He gives me a little bit of a look. “Well,” he says. “I know which numbers are in here” he gestures the phone “and up here” he points to the wall “and in these” he flips through a Rolodex. My boss continues, explaining that he has so many phone numbers that others frequently call him in order to get a contact. That people call him, he points out, is not at all unhelpful in the quest to break news.

The stacks of paper make the Capitol pressroom resemble a disorganized archive more than anything else. Indeed, anybody expecting a set from “The West Wing” might be disappointed at first glance. But this is exactly what the room should be: I’ve never seen so much paper, and I’ve never been around people who can sort through the stacks so quickly (my boss claims he can find anything in his piles within five minutes). What I think I’m learning is that I’ve got a lot to hoard before I have the phone numbers, legislative missives, and black-and-white printouts—and the relationships these things represent—that my colleagues do. Or maybe I have a lot to Google. I certainly have a lot to write.

But I’m getting better. On my desk are three of the last five editions of the Courant, a paper I still read almost entirely online (though I check each morning to see if I made it into the print edition). In my car is an unpaid parking ticket as well as a form letter one candidate for governor sent to me last week asking me to support him. That letter became a blog post (the guy also asked me for money and said he needs “just a small boost” in fundraising), but I’ll hold on to it for just a little while longer.

Matthew Q. Clarida ’16, a Crimson news editor, is a history concentrator in Cabot House.

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Summer Postcards 2014