September 30, 2008

Farewell to the New York Sun

By: David Donadio

Ben Smith has an important post in the Politico on the demise of the New York Sun, with a nice tip of the hat to my sister. The paper’s official obituary to itself is here. A sad end for a great little institution.

I too worked at the Sun once upon a time, though not for much time to speak of, and in the Washington bureau, not the hallowed halls at Church and Chambers. I remember arriving on my first day to a locked office, where I had no staff directory, kept getting calls for people who hadn’t worked there in months, had no way to change my voicemail, etc. It’s hard to describe the chaos of the operation, except by quoting the alarming all-staff emails we got from the office managers, which read like they’d been pulled out of Fawlty Towers scripts:

“Please resume normal activities. The electrical situation is resolved.”

“Despite this week’s success story (one rat down, at least one more to go), we are, as Augie mentioned, moving forward with the cleaning and disinfecting efforts.”

“There’s no fire. Building management is working on resetting the alarm. Sorry for the interruptions.”

“Someone has been called to reset the strobes which are still flashing in the newsroom and elsewhere. Please try and disregard them until they are turned off and thanks for your patience.”

“There is no fire. Please disregard any alarms. Thanks for your patience while the building runs tests.”

“THERE IS NO FIRE, please stay put until the panel is reset.”


These messages always seemed all the more strange and more wonderful when you were reading them in the silent confines of a perfectly functional (if perpetually understaffed) office at 16th and L in Washington. You couldn’t help but visualize your coworkers in New York, amid rats, piles of dirty plates, strobe lights and deafening alarms, and think the only way it would ever end is if the building actually did catch fire, and the staffers were all forced to jump out their second-floor windows.

The Sun was probably the most disorganized place I’ve ever worked, which is saying something, but it allowed me to get congressmen on the phone, ask questions of Senator Clinton in person, and talk to two former heads of the CIA in a day. It taught me what I was capable of, and made possible in one way or another everything I’ve done since.

Hats off, and Godspeed to all its staff.

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