Reportage is about the newspaper industry at the time of the decline of the industry when the egos of the reporters has failed to keep pace with the general fall in influence of once great publications. People often ask where I am going with a novel and I have few clues. I just write and see where it takes me, an approach that those who meticulously plan, treat with a good deal of suspicion.
In this extract from Chapter 1, vain star reporter Charles Matthews is horrified to learn he has been assigned the intern for a week. Matthews has just blown the lid on his investigation into City Hall corruption and is basking in the glory of the exclusive. Even Peter Carlos-Clarke, the notorious published of the Globe, seems to be impressed. He is meeting his news editor Tom Watson. Yet a meeting with the intern quickly undermines Matthews' day of triumph.
Watson pulled up a news budget. “You have follow-ups to that story today Charles and don’t forget you have the intern in tow this week.”
“Oh fuck no,” Tom.
“Oh fuck yes,” said Tom chewing a wad of tobacco. “Just don’t pull that Pulitzer winner line on me again. It’s a great thing Charles but you were part of a big team. Team is important on the Globe. And that includes letting Penny shadow you this week. You’re not too grand for that yet.”
Matthews’ pale blue eyes met those of his news editor. He didn’t need Watson to tell him he was the Globe’s star reporter. He saw it in Watson’s eyes. On an oblique level Matthews knew Watson saw something of his young self in his protegee, although Matthews could never imagine this thick set man, sporting his style of insouciance or his wispy blond locks. Matthews knew Watson could have had any job he wanted at one time. Instead he became stuck in management, leaving him subject to the mercurial whims of Peter Carlos-Clarke.
Matthews was about to take his leave when there was a powerful nudge at the door and Carlos-Clarke pushed his way in, looking left and right like a prize fighter spoiling for a fight.
“Matthews, my man,” grunted the publisher and stuck a robust hairy hand out, gripping the reporter so hard he almost winched. Matthews wanted to pull away. There was something repugnant about the olive green hand covered in hairs that stuck out of the pin striped jacket. Matthews thought of a gorilla being fitted up by the best tailor in town. Carlos-Clarke had done everything he could to distance himself from the Barrios, down to tacking on his wife’s last name to his own, but Matthews could see through it. Sometimes when Carlos-Clarke got angry, his carefully cultivated Mid Western accent fell away and the guttural tones of the burrito street vendor, returned.
Now he was grinning heartily and back slapping Matthews and the reticent Watson.
“That’ll shake em up at City Hall eh? Investigative reporting at its finest.” Then his caterpillar brows knitted for a few seconds. “We don’t expect to hear from the lawyers, do we Watson?”
It was typical of the publisher to cut the reporter out of such deliberations, even though he was the best one to give an answer.
“No,” said Watson quietly.
“Then great job guys. When’s the next awards ceremony?”
And before either of them could answer his squat form was out of the door and barreling down to another department. Matthews moved to leave too.
“Oh Charles,” said Watson. “I meant to say. Penny Harris is in the lunch room. I told her you’d go and see her.”
“Who is Penny Harris?”
“The intern, of course.”
“Oh God. Yes.”
“It’s only a week Charles and try to get her involved a bit.”
Matthews’s reporter instinct was suddenly aroused. “You don’t normally take this much interest in an intern."
Watson cleared his throat in the manner of a man who wanted it known he was clearing his throat. “I should mention her father plays golf with him upstairs, which is why your name was mentioned in relation to shadowing. I’m very sorry about that. Thought it was only polite to mention.”
“Yeah thank a lot Tom. I’ll try not to get your ass chewed by Carlos-Clarke; just no weather stories right.”
“You know I don’t strike deals with reporters Charles. But in this case I am prepared to grant you that,” said Watson with a low laugh. “Now get out of here.”
The Globe building with its art deco façade and chilly polished hallways occupied an imposing position on Jefferson Square. From the boardroom at the top it afforded an unparalleled view of eight lanes of traffic as it slammed up to the square before being diverted away on an ugly concrete highway to the west. The building had whole floors now that were occupied by forlorn huddles of people who looked nervously at the open spaces around them as they became vaster by the month. The place was built in a different era; one in which newspapers were powerhouses that vied with City Hall for preeminence.
Even Matthews felt a chill pass over him as he walked the polished floors of the 8th floor hallway. The light was refracted here and a cold blue hue that made the reporter think of a thin waterfall in the shadow of a mountain, fell on the floors from the windows at head height. This was a high concrete bridge that was a back way to the print works. Matthews liked to take it to get to the dining room when he wanted to avoid colleagues. But it was always empty. You would never encounter anyone here. The macabre side of his personality was thinking it was a place where nobody would hear him scream.
Then he went through a heavy fire door, went down some iron steps and was in the busy thoroughfare that led to the lunch room. It was empty apart from the small black bob of a girl who was looking intently into a book. Matthews tried to suppress a scornful leer coming over his face. The college girl was looking at the AP style guide.
He marched over to her and demanded: “Are you Penny?”
She half rose. He saw her face was white as porcelain, pale green eyes. She blinked nervously and replied in a tiny voice. “I was when I looked this morning.”
Matthews coughed. It wasn’t the sort of response he expected from an intern.
“Um OK. I’m Charles Matthews. I assume you are expecting me.”
The girl just blinked. Matthews saw her skirt was short and he caught an interesting glimpse of black stocking. He looked away.
The girl was taking her time, making Matthews impatient and somewhat fragile. This wasn’t what he expected, either.
“I have a list of people I’m supposed to be meeting and some type of reporter I’m meant to be shadowing. You are he perhaps.”
Although her voice was reed-like there was a firmness to it. Matthews was reevaluating fast.
Matthews drew himself up inside his tweed jacket. The urge to shake his head and walk calmly away came over him. Then an image of Carlos-Clarke appeared to him. Small; pugnacious and less than pleased. Being a star reporter meant little to Carlos-Clarke. As the old cliché went you were only as good as your last story and if the publisher didn’t like your last story, you weren’t even as good as that.
“Come with me,” Matthews snapped, more curtly than he intended. He had already come to the conclusion making small talk was an unwise course with this girl.
She said nothing, picked up her shoulder bag and walked silently beside him. To Matthews’ discomfort, Penny seemed to have no interest in him whatsoever. She looked from side to side at the framed front pages on the walls but paid little attention. The urge to explain the story behind one of his exclusives came over Matthews as they walked past it but he resisted, feeling he was likely to be stung by her disdain.
He decided Penny was either nervous or a cold fish. Matthews could not grapple with a third explanation that lay below his subconscious. The idea that she was supremely self-confident and really had better things to do than to care about the Globe.
Finally he slowed down and turned to her. “Penny. Have you ever reported on local government?”
“I’ve sat through city council meetings on my journalism course,” she replied steadily.
“Did you like it?”
The girl gave an almost imperceptible shrug. “It had its moments. When they weren’t spending two hours talking about something that would be dispensed with in 10 minutes in the boardroom.”
“Ah but the subtlety is in those long winded exchanges. The real business slips by in code when they think they have bored everyone into submission.”
The girl’s mouth furrowed. He noticed the small translucent hairs on her lip. “Not when they are discussing whether they should have one or two tea breaks at meetings for two hours.”
By now they were in the parking lot in the windswept lee of the heavy building. Matthews jammed his fists hard into his jacket.
“My car’s this way,” he said.
“I can drive,” she responded. He saw the distinctive blue and white shield on her key fob. Across the parking lot the lights of a BMW flickered on and off.