Frank Mulligan: A meeting of the mind
The editor had been forced to call his columnist into the “conference room” on only one prior occasion.
And that was so long ago that it had been in a different building.
But the conference rooms were quite similar: long table, multiple chairs, rarely used white board on the wall where points could be reinforced in writing with erasable colored markers.
And the point in a face-to-face meeting in the conference room away from the other eyes in the newsroom was similar as well.
It was a visit to the woodshed after papa or mama or both (if you were really bad and they intended to take turns) asked you to cut a switch.
The editor was upset that the columnist had been keeping him waiting for his weekly column, throwing off his work schedule.
The fact that the editor and the columnist were the same person had little bearing on the need to confront the issue, thought the editor. This was no time for nepotism.
Give this knucklehead a millimeter and he’ll take a kilometer, the editor thought to himself, using the metric system to freshen up the cliché.
The editor closed the conference room door before taking a seat on the side of the table nearest the door. This was an old personnel tactic. If the meeting got heated, the editor wouldn’t be blocked from exiting.
The editor began, “Frank, you may be wondering why I called you in here today.” He then leaped up, dashed around the table, and took the columnist’s seat.
The columnist replied, “I think I have a pretty good idea,” and then jumped up to dash around the table to reoccupy the editor’s seat.
“Maybe you’d like to tell me why,” the editor said before springing up to dash around the table and vault back into the columnist’s seat.
“Don’t be coy with me,” the columnist said. “We’ve known each other way too long for that,” he added, then bounded up to race around the table and reseat himself in the editor’s position.
“You’re right,” the editor said, genuinely contrite and starting to get winded. “We’ve been close for too long. And that’s precisely why I can’t allow you to take advantage of our relationship. I need to be getting your columns earlier in the day. I’m pretty sure you’re aware of that.”
After dashing around the table once more to take the columnist’s side, the columnist replied, “You know, I see the reporters get away with pushing the deadline all the time, and you never say a thing.”
The editor replied after making his jaunt back to the seat across the table, “Well, I expect more from you. And, well, I’m more afraid of them.”
“Oh,” the columnist replied once he’d regained his seat on the table’s far side and caught his breath. “Well, you know, I’ll try my best. Sometimes it’s hard to come up with ideas. Even this column is similar to something I did six years ago.”
“Hey, all I can ask is that you make an effort,” the editor said after he’d regained his seat once more, signaling the end of the meeting.
They exited together.
Frank Mulligan is an editor in GateHouse Media New England’s Raynham, Mass., office, and can be reached at email@example.com.