Somebody help me, I’m suffering from newspaper PTSD!

Working on a newspaper copy desk for 33 years was stressful. Even though I gave it up years ago, I'm still suffering.
Working on a newspaper copy desk for 33 years was stressful. I gave it up years ago, but I’m still suffering.

I didn’t have to wake up early today, it’s Sunday, and I could have stayed in bed. But that didn’t happen. Why? Because I had another newspaper dream. No, check that, it wasn’t a dream, it was a nightmare!

I’ve lost track of exactly how long I’ve been out of the business, but I think it’s been around five years already. Why do I keep having these nightmares? I’m asking you, former colleagues. I’m asking all you veterans of the newspaper wars. Does this ever happen to you? Is it a case of Newspaper PTSD?

Over the years, the nightmares have awakened me several times, but recently it’s been worse. I just had my third newspaper nightmare over the past two weeks, and it’s bothersome, especially since I’m no longer collecting a paycheck that would somehow justify the stress. My god, I voluntarily gave this up! Make it go away!

My nightmares don’t usually feature actual people that I knew, just nameless faces. Other details, however, come straight from the memory banks of hellish real-life events.

A nightmare last week had me sitting on the copy desk, watching the clock tick down as I twiddled my thumbs because the computer system was down … again. Of course that really happened to me — on many occasions — just as I’m sure it happened to anyone who ever worked for a newspaper. There are not many more helpless feelings for a deskman than to have deadline approaching, a mountain of copy to climb, and no way to get started.

Gaaaaa! Wake up! I don’t need this!

Last night’s nightmare was worse because it involved an active obstructionist. I’ve worked for newspapers where workers in other departments did everything possible to assist the copy desk, because they understood what kind of stress we were under. Thank you, Marla. Thank you, Gladys. Thank you, Ken.

Unfortunately, I also worked at newspapers where the opposite was true, and last night’s nightmare stemmed from some of those experiences. I’ve had artists refuse to send over locator maps because they were working on something else that wasn’t due until next week! I’ve had a photo editor refuse to send over a mugshot I’d requested because he judged that I “really don’t need it,” even though he had no idea what I needed it for, or why. I’ve had city desk editors decide to hold my lead story, then walk out the door without telling anybody! You haven’t truly lived until you’ve sat there with your dick in your hand —10 minutes until deadline — then realized the horrible truth, that your lead story ain’t coming!

In last night’s nightmare, I was working the front page, and deadline was approaching. I sat down at my desk and saw that I hadn’t moved a single story, even though they were all sitting there in my queue. Panic set in, and I started to work, but needed a sidebar to pair with a jump. The wire editor then refused to send it over, saying he needed authorization from someone who wasn’t even in the newsroom! Authorization? You need authorization? I’m your authorization, you idiot!!!!

Ever thought that you might like working on a newspaper? Well, get started, you have 10 minutes.
Ever thought that you might like working on a newspaper? Well, get started, you have 10 minutes.

A newspaper layout job can be like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle, but one where none of the pieces fit. Last night, I just couldn’t work the puzzle, and no one was helping. I was doomed, watching the clock tick, tick, tick away the minutes. I was helpless, couldn’t do anything, kept turning the same pieces every which way, trying desperately to make something fit. That sidebar was the missing piece, and with it, everything else would fall into place. Oh god, why won’t this asshat on the wire desk just send it over??? Somebody please help meeeeee!

When I woke up, I got out of bed immediately, the nightmare still fresh in my mind. No pleasant dozing for me in the cool of the morning; I was already stressed out at 5:30 a.m. I did what any good ex-newspaperman would do, I brewed up a pot of coffee, needing that shot of caffeine to wind me up tighter still.

Do you ever have newspaper dreams? I hate ‘em. Somebody please make them go away!


Add yours →

  1. Unlike you, I’ve been out of the business for only four months, so yes indeed I have newspaper dreams. Only a few were actually nightmares, though, and none has been as visceral as yours seem to be. In mine, I usually get up from the copy desk at one of the five papers I labored at, step down a hall and find myself in one of the OTHER papers I worked at. Or people I worked at on one paper are, for some reason, sitting around the copy desk at another one and waiting for me to finish working a story for page one. And, of course, there’s always a deadline looming. But then I wake up and realize, with a large, self-satisfied grin, that I DON’T HAVE TO DO THAT ANYMORE! I think those dreams are akin to the ones we all had after college, the ones where we realize just as we walk into a class that it’s finals time and we haven’t even set foot in that room all semester. That sort of thing. Coffee does help, though. Also naps.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jason Fredric Gilbert July 27, 2015 — 12:21 am

    sometimes, in a dream a newspaper is just a newspaper.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Actual Newspaper Headlines:
    Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says [No, really?]

    Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers [Now that’s taking things a bit far!]

    Is There a Ring of Debris around Uranus? [Not if I wipe thoroughly!]

    Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over [What a guy!]

    Miners Refuse to Work after Death [No-good-for-nothing’ lazy so-and-so!]

    Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant [See if that works any better than a fair trial!]

    War Dims Hope for Peace [I can see where it might have that effect!]

    If Strike Isn’t Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile [You think?]

    Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures [Who would have thought!]

    Were you responsible for any of the above??

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m pretty sure that, no matter how long I live after I retire, I will have law-related nightmares of all sorts. As I still have high school related ones (and I graduated many years ago), I can only assume my future self will be subject to panics regarding client phone calls in the middle of the night, missed deadlines and horrible opposing counsel.

    Liked by 1 person

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