"Trib Newsroom Takes Center Stage in Eastwood Flick"

by Brenda Payton, Oakland Tribune, 11 March 1999

The Oakland Tribune is going Hollywood. The paper is starring in the new Clint Eastwood movie, "True Crime," opening March 19 in theaters near you.

Well, technically, the newspaper doesn't actually star in the movie. Eastwood is the star. The Oakland Tribune was chosen as the name of the paper in the movie because Eastwood used to deliver it when he was a kid growing up in Oakland. This is definitely the stuff of movie lore.

We may not be starring in the movie, but we will be on display. The set designers used the Tribune newsroom as the model for the movie newsroom. They copied some of our historic pictures and front pages. We even collected trash for them. For weeks, we saved all our press releases, faxes, letters, envelopes, notes, etc. for the set dressing for the newsroom. Set dressing is movie lingo for the stuff that makes the set look authentic.

For a newsroom, that stuff includes lots of paper. I'm talking loads of paper, mailed by the bin load, clogging and overflowing the fax machine. Papers left in envelopes at the front desk.

These missives are mostly read. Many of them end up in the recycle bin, which is what we saved for Eastwood's movie. And many end up piled on desks throughout the newsroom. It was those piles the set dressers wanted to recreate with the recycle bins of paper we'd saved for them.

In the actual piles, papers are generally irretrievable and forgotten. The better-organized reporters (a near oxymoron) put these papers in files where they are forgotten and so irretrievable. While computers and faxes were touted as devices to reduce these piles of paper, they have actually led to a four- or fivefold increase.

Now, every time a thought crosses someone's mind, he or she has the ability to e-mail or fax it right over, before he or she has had a second thought that perhaps the first thought is not really that thought-provoking. And for some reason, faxes are like potato chips — no one can send just one. Faxes generally come by the twos and threes.

So if you've ever been curious about the inside of a newsroom, "True Crime" should give you a true picture — if they use half the papers we collected for them.

However, I have to offer a caveat. Some of the characteristics and circumstances of Eastwood's character are less than authentic.

He's a hard-nosed investigative reporter, racing against the clock to uncover the information that will clear an innocent man scheduled to be executed. This brings to mind recent events in Illinois where four men who had been incarcerated for 20 years after being wrongly convicted of a murder — two were on death row — were released after Northwestern University journalism students tracked down the real killers. Yet a fifth man was recently cleared by another group of Northwestern journalism students.

The Illinois stories were a shining moment for journalism. Unfortunately, experienced, working journalists failed to uncover what the students were able to find. Sort of makes you wonder.

Eastwood's character is also a drunk — sober for only the previous two months — and an inveterate womanizer. I am compelled to say this is a completely false depiction. In 24 years, I've never met a reporter who liked to mess around. Well, maybe one or two. And I've certainly never met one who had a drinking problem. OK, maybe three or four. Perhaps I should move on to my next point.

The coup de grace, however, is these lines: "Thanks to his messy personal life, he was fired from the New York Times. He has since relocated to the West Coast and The Oakland Tribune for a last chance...."

So now we gain the national reputation as the paper of last resort. The last chance before being tossed on the garbage heap of reporters. Last stop before the Home for Washed-up Hacks. That's the thanks we get after all those weeks of trash collection.

I don't know about this Hollywood fame stuff. Maybe we'd be better off in our previous state of undiscovered anonymity. And oh, if you happen to see a letter or fax you sent to me somewhere among the set dressing, know that I read it thoroughly before tossing it in the recycle bin.

©1999 Oakland Tribune

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