Chris’ is a 50-something seasoned journalist who enjoys a good drink. After years away from the field, he returns to his first love, the copy desk, at a small newspaper in Maine. Shawn, a talented writer fresh out of journalism school, winds up at the same paper. He wants to hang around long enough to make a name for himself, get some clips and move on to a big-city paper. When a surgical deaths story at the local hospital is killed by newspaper executives, Chris and Shawn become suspicious and discover a scheme that involves the blackmail of an alcoholic physician into naming a cardiac care center after the paper.
Against the backdrop of a frantic, fractious and bawdy newsroom, Chris and Shawn, each at times fearful and uncertain about their commitment to the cause, find themselves driven on to a climax that exposes the bad guys and gives the paper’s readers a front page they’ll never forget.
After years of working on deadline, when precious seconds are sometimes all you have to make a decision about whether a story is fit for publication or an anonymous source worthy of credibility, Chris often found himself making life decisions too fast. He reminded himself he wasn’t on deadline, that he didn’t have to spit out a course of action on the spot. That Shawn would not lose confidence in him if he didn’t. Or would he?
“How am I gonna sleep after drinking this coffee?” he said quietly to himself. “I have to get up at 4.” He paused. “I know, Drambui.”
“You are such a fucking lush,” Shawn said, getting up from his chair. “I gotta go. I have to get up too, remember?”
“That’s your answer, you’re brilliant,” Chris said, pouring a large shot of the brown liqueur into his coffee cup. “We’ll both sleep on it. Remember, we got time on this one, let’s use it.”
Shawn, flush with the heat of cerebral battle, gladly accepted Chris’ recommendation. Maybe there was a way out of this dilemma without having to have a Watergate. They could investigate it further, snoop around a little, test the waters. All that good stuff. He left Chris’ apartment gladly, almost rushing out the door. Second day in journalism, he thought. Too much, too intense. He practically vaulted down the outside stairs that led to the street.
When he was in his car and gone Chris took his “coffee” into the living room to watch CNN on his 13-inch Sanyo. Unrest in the Gaza, more soldiers dead in Iraq, and the terror alert was “elevated.” As the headline ribbons of death and destruction, pop culture and politics raced across the bottom of the screen along with the time in four different time zones and the Dow and NASDAQ highs for the day, Chris felt a numbing sense of sensory overload himself. The news seemed always the same.
An excerpt from the book Freak the News:
So why did people trying to make their mortgage payment and get their kids to soccer practice on time care so much about it, enough to pay his rent and his groceries and his booze.
Then he thought of the new cardiac care unit and the likely fraud that was about to be foisted on the people of Rocksville. Then he realized it’s only the same when it’s not happening to you. When it’s happening to you, it’s not the same. It’s either truly wonderful, like when you win the lottery; or truly horrific, like when the serial killer kills someone you love.
So, it’s not all the same. And it has to be reported. Just like this bullshit heart disease series that was being concocted — he was certain — for the paper’s gain, not the poor schmuck that’s suffering with the disease. It had to be reported somehow. The people deserved the truth, not someone’s or some corporation’s version or vision of it.
He felt himself getting mad and hot and then prickly, a sure sign that he’d better calm down before he had a heart attack. He slowly got off the couch, went into the kitchen, ritualistically poured the liquor down the drain, drank a glass of milk and went to bed.
Usually, during the time between when Chris lay his head on the pillow and fell to sleep, he thought of his best headlines to use on feature fronts that came out once a week and were printed in advance of the publish date.
But tonight, all he could think of was what to do about the note that implied Drummond killed the surgical deaths story. Shawn would be looking to him for guidance and support. If he didn’t know what to do, he could lose Shawn as a confidante, as someone who could help him do what had to be done, even if he didn’t know what that was yet.
And so he tossed from side to side till nearly midnight. Then he thought of it — the perfect plan — and slept like a baby.
Freak the News:
It's 'textbook' journalism
Freak the News is an ideal instructional tool for freshmen as well as upper-class college journalism students. The novel will expose them to ethics and philosophical questions in news gathering as well as the dynamics of a busy daily newsroom, especially at a small daily newspaper. Since most of your graduates will likely begin at a small- or mid-sized daily, Freak the News will be doubly instructive. And it's an easy, fun read your students will be able to finish with relative ease in a few short days.
A MESSAGE FOR PROFESSORS
- The role of advertisers in editorial content
- What to do with the 'questionable' story that germanates from upper management
- Story placement
- Newsroom politics
- What to do when an editor says it's not a story
- What details go into a story, what details don't
- Dealing with an evil boss.
Freak the News author Harrison Thorp, a veteran newspaperman with more than 20 years experience as a newspaper reporter and editor, lectures
recently at a library in Sanford, Maine. Mr. Thorp is now available as guest lecturer at high schools and colleges nationwide.
FTN author Thorp
available for lectures
With the Rupert Murdoch/News Corp phone hacking, bribery and corruption scandal moving to the United States, Freak the News author Harrison Thorp is gearing up for a busy fall as college and high school journalism teachers are expected to avail themselves of his special insight into the dark and unseemly underbelly of today's news gathering industry.
Pandering, manipulative, and downright corrupt are some of the words critics have used to describe Mr. Thorp's description of today's journalism.
His lectures promise to be insightful, informative and compelling as well as entertaining. "I'm looking forward to it," Mr. Thorp said.