There were 17 minutes until the announcement, or something close to it. The clocks on the wall seemed to be a little off from the official time.
They were mostly set, or as set as a newsroom can be for that kind of thing. A team of journalists had prepared three different versions of the story: guilty, innocent, and somewhere in between. That grey somewhere is where most of them expected the result. The photo department had gone to war with the editors over what picture they’d run – the shit-eating grin, the head hung low, or the slight grimace.
Hunched over his desk, the look on Larry’s face was different from no other day. He stared long and hard at the pre-written opening of the story that would be published if the charges came back not guilty. It read, “The CEO of the world’s largest bank was found not guilty of 27 charges relating to her role in a supposed conspiracy to fix worldwide markets that was believed to have touched the lives of nearly every single living person.”
Web editors had their pages carefully laid out, with a massive banner picture spanning the top of the screen showing a hardened but weary face. The picture would work regardless of the verdict.
Six months ago, that same picture graced thousands of websites, newspapers around the world, and more than a few protest signs. The photo subject’s name was less important than what he represented. She was now the focal point of the entire country’s, and much of the world’s, disdain. As the head of one of the nation’s most powerful banks, her notoriety preceded her long before the charges.
And yet the charges made her a household name. They made her the topic of every conversation at dinner tables, water coolers, and every television show featuring screaming pundits. She was arguably the most powerful person in America who might walk down the street unnoticed. Now, mobs chased her – whether they were angry citizens, journalists on the beat, or attorneys.
It was quieter than normal in the newsroom; the unmistakable feel of a group of people all waiting for the same thing. The click-clack of keyboards bounced off the walls, interrupted by the occasional murmur of hushed phone calls. The muted TVs on the wall broadcast different news channels, all with the same coverage of a reporter standing on courthouse steps, biding time.
15 minutes passed. It could be any second now. His phone would ring and their reporter in the newsroom would call with the verdict. Thinking back over their coverage, he had fought with editors, journalists, and PR to maintain some balance, some perspective over a case that tore at many of the issues they battled with daily: the rise of giant multinational banks, the impotence of government regulation, the lack of compromise or nuance from the government, and the relative complacency of people at large.
Four more minutes had passed, with Larry’s eyes glued to his phone. He saw the light blink red before the phone rang aloud. In one motion he grabbed the handset and twirled in his chair to face his associate editor.
“Not guilty on all counts. Pre-write stands. I’ll be in the office in 30 to work on the analysis piece.”
He didn’t so much slam the phone down, as he let it fall back onto his desk with almost no control. The others in the newsroom were focused solely on him.
“Innocent,” he stated as matter-of-factly as possible. “All counts. Publish the pre-write immediately. Send the email, text and Twitter alerts.”
The room sprang to life in a predictable, organized, but still hectic way, as each person moved quickly to take care of their responsibilities. Larry leaned back in his chair, reloading his paper’s webpage to look over the newly published content. It was just as it should be. He looked at the headline, tightening the grip on his worn-out mouse as he recounted the coverage – the initial charges, the dramatic arrest, and the incredible refusal to plea bargain. It was an open secret in business circles that she was guilty of most, if not all, of the charges. But she thought she could beat them. And she was smart enough to know if that gamble was worth it.
“Larry?” his associate editor asked in a quiet tone. “Do you want to order another set of pictures?”
It was a question that didn’t concern him with an obvious answer, just something to get him to stop staring intently at his screen.
“She beat the market, and when that wasn’t enough, she beat the rest of us as well,” he said, finally shifting his gaze to one of the televisions stationed above their group of desks. “And now we have to say that she’s innocent, when everyone who picks up a paper will know that’s not the truth. She didn’t just win, she’s making liars out of us right now.”
Walter Burns works in news and knows that this story is not nearly as true to life as an episode of The Newsroom, especially since no journalists are that physically attractive. He is a staff writer for The Inclusive.