One night at work


"Larry Miller just died."

The seventh floor, usually awash in phone calls, clicking keystrokes, and briskly walking journalists, ground to a halt as Greg hung up the phone, already moving to dial another number.

"What?" someone asked.

"Larry Miller just died. I'm getting the press release right now."

A ripple began traveling across the newsroom, touching each cubicle further from the epicenter of Greg's desk and bouncing off in a different direction. Heads began popping up from computer screens, each repeating the same words: "Larry Miller just died?"

I sat -- well, sort of sprawled -- across a low filing cabinet, Macbook on lap. I had just received my daily dose of vicarious drama from my friend Emiley on the fifth floor, an intern and fellow former Daily Universe alum. I was supposed to be sitting at the desk next to the cabinet currently supporting my backside, but my coworker Larry (last name: not Miller, obviously) was squatting on that property, waiting for another coworker to clear out of an adjacent desk. As the ripple brushed my Cabinet seat (har har), I too parroted the phrase, paused for a moment to reflect -- it was a huge loss for the state of Utah, not unexpected (due to Miller's poor health) but still shocking in its sudden immediacy -- then continued idly browsing the Web until I could place my posterior in more productive environs.

A moment later, it hit me: We have to get this online. Right now.

The customary cacophony had resumed, except now it was all on the same subject, towards the same end. The newsroom had transmogrified into a many-voiced, hundred-handed organism, furiously tapping at keyboards, stabbing at numbers on phones and yelling questions and instructions to each journalist/cell:

"Do we have an obit?"
"I looked at it yesterday, D-Rob sent it in, I'm editing it now."
"We're not gonna get it fast enough. Where's the press release?"
"I'm looking right at it here."
"E-mail it to me, we'll have to create a blank file for it."
"We need art!"
"I'm already looking."
"Somebody get Huntsman on the phone."
"Who else do we need to call?"
"Monson."
"David Stern."
"Karl Malone."
"Stockton."
"He won't talk."
"He'll talk about this."
"Derek Fisher."
"Oh yeah, that's big."
"Sports is on it."
"The Trib doesn't have anything yet."
"Sweet, we're gonna beat 'em to it."
"Press release is live."
"I'm sending art."
"Which one do you wanna use?"
"Not the one where he looks wall-eyed."
"Rick says use the mug shot."
"Do we use 'dead' or 'dies?' "
" 'Dies.' "
"Put Jazz owner in the hed."
"He did other things."
"That's not what people know him for."
"Wow, 21 comments already."
"Sending the obit."
"We're ready."

The thing was, I was ready. Even in my awkward body position (there wasn't time now to play Musical Desks), even though moments before we had all been minding our own business, and I hadn't even really been working, even though I had only spent about a week on the seventh floor and a lot of people still didn't know my name... well, none of it mattered.

Something inside me, something I have felt before, had awakened -- something always prepared for the challenge of a vital task, some part of my personality or brain or being that snaps to the front when faced with a crisis and immediately starts giving orders. And I really was giving orders, to people twenty or thirty years my senior, about file formats and statuses and attaching photos and fixing captions. And they were listening, and following, and reporting back. Because right then, the only way to get the story out was through the website. And therefore, through me. Me, at 25 years old, not six months removed from my internship, inexperienced and naive. I was breaking the biggest local story of the year to date.

Let me not overstate my role in this. I produced no content myself, aside from the writing of a couple headlines and captions. I didn't write the stories. I didn't make the phone calls. I didn't gather the quotes. I didn't retrieve the archive photos. But I made sure all these things were being done, and being done in a way that would make it fast and easy to put them online. And then I made sure they appeared there properly. In this news-producing superorganism, I was acting as the motor functions -- the doer of deeds. And I feel the deeds were done, and done well.

The rest of the night was long and difficult, though its impact was far less immediate. My inner whatever-it-is (Crisis Control manager, maybe, or my own personal Papa Smurf) returned to hibernation, and I tucked in behind Larry (not-Miller) as his wingman, fighting through many obstacles before piloting the website safely into the harbor for the night.

As I left the office, I reflected. It was probably the worst, longest, most difficult shift of work I have yet done in my short time as a young working professional. It was probably also the best and most important shift yet for my career. I performed my duties, and more, with proficiency, when everyone was watching, without being asked or told to do anything.

I think it's the kind of thing Larry Miller would have done.