Philip Maddocks: News-gatherers vow to follow tabloid reporters into men’s rooms
Saying they are ashamed, as professionals, at having been beaten by a popular tabloid newspaper to the story of John Edwards’ infidelity, mainstream media reporters have vowed to do a better job of following National Enquirer reporters into men’s rooms across the country.
"It’s not rocket science," said a reporter from the New York Times, referring to the Enquirer’s doggedness in chasing Edwards into a men’s room at the Beverly Hilton in pursuit of the story. "It’s just doing the dirty work. We have to be willing to get in there and mix it up with those reporters from the tabloids. It’s not for us to make judgements. It is our job to follow those tabloid reporters in an unbiased way and see which men’s room they take us to."
"Times have changed," added a longtime reporter for the Washington Post.. "We live in a different era. And you have to go where the stories are. And from [Idaho Senator] Larry Craig to John Edwards that place increasingly seems to be the men’s room."
In what they described as "a duty" to their viewers and readers, publishers and broadcast moguls from most mainstream media outlets across the country pledged yesterday to have their reporters follow prominent tabloid journalists "to the gates of the stalls in the Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach’s men’s rooms if necessary" to capture the day’s biggest story.
"We will have our reporters going into men’s rooms around the clock if that’s what it takes to keep up with the tabloid reporters," vowed a news editor for the Los Angeles Times.
The new policy, which took effect this week, was revealed by mainstream news editors during the taping of an interview for "Nightline" on ABC that will air tonight.
In the interview, news editors said they could no longer ignore the enterprising success of their competitors at the tabloid.
"Good reporting is sometimes an untidy job," said an editorial page editor at the Boston Globe.. "If that means going into a hotel men's room early in the morning and ending up in a literal tug-of-war with a former presidential candidate on the other side of the door, well, so be it. Our reporters have to be willing to watch the tabloid reporters do that and report on it.,"
"We owe that to our readers. They deserve to know what the tabloid reporters are finding out about who is sleeping with what if that means more readers will buy our paper," added an editor at the Dallas Morning News.
Others in the news business called the men’s room reporting a necessary adjustment that mainstream news organizations have to make if they hope to survive in this age of 24-hour men’s room visits.
Said one national news editor, "I am sick of being scooped by reporters at the National Enquirer. So our reporters are going to hound those reporters until we get their story."
A deputy managing editor for the New York Times admitted he would have preferred that the Times do their own lavatory reporting, but given the National Enquirer’s vast institutional knowledge of celebrity-frequented restrooms, and their unrivaled experience in this field built up over years of reporting from a wide range of men’s room encounters, the Times editor said that following the lead of the National Enquirer reporters was the best use of his paper’s shrinking resources and the most likely to lead to immediate results.
Other editors fretted about "possible overkill," saying that sending all their reporters in pursuit of tabloid reporters entering men’s rooms might cause them to miss other important stories that could be unfolding in a ladies room or a sauna.
But most agreed, given the mainstream media’s dwindling supply of reporters, tagging after reporters from a better-funded tabloid is the only practical solution.
Still, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and a member of the paper’s newly-formed water closet investigative unit, which will closely monitor the restroom comings and goings of National Enquirer reporters, said he already misses the old days, when reporters used to break stories by meeting with sources in shadowy parking garages instead of chasing down tabloid reporters in hotel men’s rooms.
Some media observers say the latest reporting triumph for National Enquirer reporters — which involved them chasing former presidential candidate John Edwards throughout the Beverly Hilton hotel and into one of its restrooms last month, ultimately forcing Edwards into publicly admitting to an extramarital affair — may prove to be a tipping point in reporting technique, but it won’t change the fundamental tenets of the news-gathering industry.
"This business has always been more about newsmakers than the news," said one scholar at the Project On Publishing Excess. "But most of all, it is about making sure you have the same news as the other guy."
Philip Maddocks can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.