Authors: Marianne Mancusi
To investigative producer Mary Schwager, who made my
real life TV news experience anything but blue. And to investigative
reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan, who taught me
that ethics and fair reporting really can (and should) exist
in today’s newsroom. You guys are amazing journalists and
I’m lucky to know you both.
“Are you on your date?” Jamie asked, eyes sparkling. “Do I get to meet the famous blond-haired, blue-eyed Czech surfer in
Er, I was hoping he’d have forgotten about that.
“He, uh, had to leave early.” I grimaced. “I did have a picture, but…” I waited for him to tease me, but he didn’t.
“Didn’t go as planned, huh?” he asked sympathetically.
“Not exactly.” I sighed. “But he ordered before he took off, so if you’re in the mood for a chicken fiesta burrito, you’re
A ray of hope peeked through my dark evening clouds. This would be great. Jamie and I could have a nice meal. We could become
friends. Other diners would see that I wasn’t a loser who got walked out on by her date.
Jamie smiled. “I would, but…”
“Jamie! Our table’s over here. Did you get lost?” A tall, anorexic-looking blonde came up and slipped her arm around his waist
Oh. He wasn’t alone.
I still couldn’t believe I was actually doing this.
Clutching the videotape in one trembling hand, I strode down the hallway, heading for what in the TV news world we called
Receive. The place where my story could broadcast to the world. Well, at least the world of San Diego. Receive was the gateway
to the airwaves, and its guardians had no idea what they were about to let loose.
In just minutes, my five-year career at News 9 would be over forever. Heck, they’d probably blacklist me from ever setting
foot in a TV station again. My dream of working at
would never come true. But it didn’t matter. I didn’t want to work in a business that was as corrupt as I’d recently determined
it to be.
The truth was more important. My sister and the others like her were more important.
My heart slammed against my rib cage as I pushed open the door. The Receive coordinator gave me a stressed smile before going
back to organizing the videotapes for tonight’s broadcast. I smiled back, knowing from her look that no one had time to check
to see what was on the tape I delivered.
I took a deep breath. This was it.
“This is for you, Lulu, ” I whispered to myself, then handed the coordinator the tape. “Here’s tonight’s feature story. ‘Cosmetics
I held my breath as she took the tape and examined the label.
Please don’t check, please don’t check.
“Great, ” she smiled, filing the tape in its appropriate slot for the five o’clock news. “Thanks, Maddy.”
It was done.
TWO MONTHS EARLIER…
re: story idea
Thank you for your story idea about how dangerous blind spots behind SUVs have caused parents to inadvertently back over their
own children—striking them down in their very driveway. It’s distressing to hear that more than 72 kids died last year alone
in this horrific manner.
But after talking it over with the promotions department, we think it’d be better if you could just stick with the “Cosmetics
That Kill” story we assigned you last week.
News 9 - San Diego, CA
I pressed “delete” and leaned back in my squeaky cubicle chair, suppressing a long sigh of frustration.
Why was I even surprised?
After five years of working as an assistant producer at “if it bleeds, it leads” News 9, I knew I should have been used to
the rejection of thought-provoking, legitimate stories in exchange for sensationalistic trash. I should have been content
pitching the plastic surgery, the diet, the who-is-Paris-Hilton-sleeping-with-now stories.
I was a glutton for punishment.
I should have known that my boss Laura didn’t want to do a story about SUVs with dangerous blind spots. News 9 aired advertisements
for those same SUVs during its commercial breaks. Paid advertisements. It was simple as that.
“Hey, Maddy, why the long face, girl?”
The voice of my coworker and best friend Jodi brought me back from my job-induced doom and gloom. Spinning around in my chair,
I watched the five-ten blonde plop herself down at my cubicle-mate’s vacant desk and look at me with concerned eyes.
“Oh, nothing. Just the usual, ” I said with a shrug. “Typical day at News Nine, San Diego.”
“Uh-oh.” Jodi grinned. “I know that look. What is it this time? Deadly Dishwashers? Perilous Pets? Killer Clay?” she mocked
in her best TV newsman voice.
“Killer Clay was last month, ” I reminded her. “This episode of the fabulous
Household Products That Kill
series features murderous makeup.”
“Oh dear, ” Jodi said, feigning shock. “I’m going to have to rethink my whole morning routine.”
I swatted at her with the back of my hand.
“I mean, don’t get me wrong, ” I said. “It’s not that I’m against informing the public against the hidden dangers of Mary
Kay and the rest. It’s just that as far as I can tell cosmetics simply don’t kill. Ever. Like, in the history of cosmetics
there hasn’t been a single fatality.”
“Did you look up ancient Egypt? I read once that they wore makeup. Maybe someone crushed up a poison berry or something.”
I rolled my eyes, not even dignifying that with a response.
The problem was, the powers-that-be at News 9 didn’t care that cosmetics didn’t actually kill; it sounded good in the promo
and that was all that mattered. If the station could convince the twenty-four- to fifty-five-year-old woman who planned to
go to bed after she saw who got fired, kicked off the island, or brutally humiliated by an arrogant Brit named Simon, to stay
up and watch the evening news, that was enough. And they believed scaring her half to death was the best way to accomplish
Five years ago, I, Maddy Madison, graduated from the ivory tower of journalistic ethics, Columbia University, ready to save
the world. Expose the bad guys. Right society’s wrongs. Be the voice of truth in a sea of lies.
Boy, was I an idiot.
Anyone who thinks TV news has anything—and I mean
—to do with journalism should take a major reality pill. Our business is entertainment. Period.
Except on those network TV magazine shows. Like
or my favorite—
did important stories. They uncovered scandals and weren’t afraid to name the bad guys. It’d been my dream to become a producer
ever since their star investigative reporter Diane Dickson came to speak at my high school ten years ago. She’d been so cool.
So smart. So polished and important. So into real journalism and ethics and all that stuff. I’d hero-worshiped her ever since.
So, I continued to toil away at local news producing, honing my résumé videotape and hoping that someday I’d have enough experience
to be worthy of walking the same halls as Diane and the gang.
Hey, a girl could dream.
“I’ve got some news that may cheer you up, ” Jodi announced.
“Oh?” I asked, crossing my fingers for jelly donuts at the assignment desk.
“They hired a new photographer. And he’s to
“Perfect.” I grinned. “I’d been thinking of pitching ‘Fatal Photographers’ at the next story meeting. Do you think he’ll agree
to be interviewed?”
“Hah!” Jodi laughed appreciatively. “But seriously, Maddy. He’s really hot.”
“Easy, tiger, ” I warned. “You’re taken, remember?”
Jodi, a dog freak, met the man of her dreams a couple years back on Dog Beach, a pet friendly patch of sand on the northern
border of San Diego’s Ocean Beach. Her three male Great Danes came bounding over to sniff the butt of his delicate female
Italian greyhound, and the rest, as they say, was history. The two got married a year ago and live happily ever after, squashed
into a hair-infested, Great Dane/Italian greyhound-filled bungalow on the shores of Ocean Beach. Luckily, neither could afford
“But you’re still single, ” Jodi reminded me with a sly smile, brushing dog hair from her otherwise adorable black sweater.
Typical. She was
trying to set me up, so I’d have a fourth wheel to balance things when we all went out. In fact, she was so desperate for
me to get a boyfriend she’d been less than selective with her set-ups than I might have desired.
I mean, sure there’s probably a woman out there for the guy who thought a replica Captain Kirk uniform was proper attire for
a first date. And I imagine it’ll be quite simple for that man with a penchant for farting at dinner to find the woman who
better appreciates his bodily functions. And the guy who was so cheap he made me write an IOU when I needed a quarter for
the bubblegum machine? I bet his Mrs. Right’s just around the corner.
So when Jodi got that excited matchmaking gleam in her blue eyes, my guard immediately went up.
“What’s he look like?”
“Go see for yourself. He’s in the newsroom.”
“I don’t know. I’ve got to go work on ‘Cosmetics That Kill.’ It edits Tuesday and I’ve yet to find a single person who will
agree to be interviewed on the topic.”
Jodi put on a mock pout. “Fine. Go ahead and work. But when Christine in sales snatches this one, you’ll be sorry you didn’t
get to him first.”
I was saved by the bell—my phone rang. I hesitated before picking up the receiver: It was an inside ring, which meant someone
somewhere in the building wanted something from me. This could be as simple as “Where’s the tease for last night’s story?”
or as bad as “You’re fired, pack up your desk and leave.” That’s how it worked at News 9.
Curiosity won out over common sense and I put the receiver to my ear. “This is Maddy.”
“Madeline, this is Richard. Can you come down to my office for a moment?”
It was the news director. While Laura was the executive producer of our department, Richard was the big boss of the entire
newsroom. He wasn’t a tyrant or anything, but no one wanted to be called down to his office. It was like being sent to the
principal—and never turned out well. My hand shook a little as I set the receiver back in its cradle.
What could he want from me? Were the ratings for “Killer Clay” bad? Had he decided to replace me with a twenty-two-year-old
natural blonde? (As a twenty-seven-year-old bottled blonde at News 9, I was already getting over the hill.) Or, maybe he was
promoting me. Maybe for some incomprehensible reason he’d thought “Killer Clay” was Emmy-worthy and he wanted me to take Laura’s
Yeah, right. And maybe they’d raised the
The only way to find out was to go down to the newsroom. I rose from my chair, told Jodi I had to leave, and headed from our
Special Projects alcove to the massive Newsplex below.
The Newsplex looked like something out of Future World at Disney World: very sci-fi, with neon lights zooming everywhere,
a billion TV sets, strategically placed, and furniture that looked like something out of
. It was a bit overwhelming, and I was sometimes glad to be stuck in tiny, overcrowded Cubicle Land on the fourth floor.
I scanned the room from the balcony before walking downstairs. The place was alive, as usual. Worker ants scurrying around
to serve their queen, News 9’s main anchor Terrance Toller. (Yes, a guy, but very queenlike, trust me!) Now in his sixties,
the clinically narcissistic anchor defined the stereotype of male diva, and struck fear into the hearts of the young production
assistants and writers who lived to serve him. One of his favorite tortures? Asking random questions moments before going
Example: Story is about a soldier’s death in Uzbekistan. Seconds before the commercial ends and Terrance is supposed to read
the twenty-second blurb on the event, he turns from his camera-facing position and demands, “What’s the capital of Uzbekistan?”
to the hapless writer who sits behind him.
It doesn’t matter that the death didn’t take place in the capital of Uzbekistan. It doesn’t matter that Terrance will never
mention the name of the capital on air even if it did. (He’d never be able to pronounce it anyway.) If the poor writer doesn’t
instantly have the answer to his trivial pursuit, she’s going to get it after the show. Needless to say, whenever Terrance
took the anchor desk, all the writers had Google fired up and were ready to search.
I carefully made my way down the steep steps into the Newsplex. My pitiful salary didn’t afford me good shoes and I was forced
to run around in ill-fitting irregulars from a factory outlet. They looked pretty cool, but the tops were already detaching
from the soles. One wrong step and I’d stumble down into televised embarrassment.
That was the thing about the Newsplex. As it was the backdrop of the newscast, anything that happened behind the scenes was
broadcast on live TV. I remember one time the overnight engineers set the house channel to some porn station and forgot to
change it back. Let me tell you, the FCC wasn’t so happy when morning viewers got their daily breakfast news with a side of
Richard’s door was closed when I arrived and I wondered if I should come back later. The idea was more than tempting, but
I decided to brave it out with a timid knock.
I slid my hand around the knob and opened the door. The news director sat behind his great mahogany desk, leaning back in
an ultracomfy executive chair. I duly noted his smile. So, this wasn’t bad news. Okay. I let out the breath I hadn’t realized
I’d been holding.
“Hi. You wanted to see me?” I asked, hovering in the doorway like a vampire waiting for my invitation to come in.
“Sit down, Madeline, ” Richard said, gesturing to an empty seat—an empty seat beside the hottest guy in the known universe,
I suddenly realized.
Oh. My. God.
Was this the new photographer Jodi had been talking about? “To die for” had been the understatement of the century. More like
to die for, be raised from the dead for, and live an entirely new existence based on worshiping him.
He had shiny light brown hair, clipped short in the back, hanging a bit longish over his green eyes. Well built, but not huge,
he wore Diesel dark-rinse jeans and a tight black T-shirt stretched across his chest, delightfully hugging his pecs and flat
stomach. He gave me a smile that nearly made me melt into a soppy puddle on Richard’s floor.
Stop staring, Maddy!
I forced my eyes away and back to Richard, concentrated on Richard’s bulgy paunch of a stomach—a definite buzz-kill—and sat
down next to Adonis.
“Thanks for coming down, Madeline, ” Richard said. He never could come to terms with the fact that everyone called me Maddy
since birth. “I’d like you to meet Jamie Hayes. He’s our new photographer and today’s his first day.”
I turned slowly to face Adonis/Jamie and attempted a friendly—but not too friendly—smile. He flashed his white teeth again
and held out his hand.
“Hi, Madeline, nice to meet you.”
“M-maddy, ” I corrected before I could stop myself. I bit my lower lip. One did not correct men who looked that good. That
was, like, Adonis 101.
I swallowed. Hard. Twenty-something years mastering the English language and I could barely spit out a sentence. “You can
call me Maddy.”
He grinned again. “Maddy. I had a dog named Maddy once.”
I reminded him of a dog. Ugh. Did I look that bad? I tried to surreptitiously check my reflection in the glassed trophy cabinet
behind him. My ridiculously expensive Hillcrest hairdresser had assured me my flippy do was artfully messy, but all I saw
in my reflection was a blond Cousin It. And why hadn’t I worn something cute? Hip? What had possessed my bleary-eyed six A.M.
self to choose the ugly green sweater that was currently draped over my body? And my three-year-old faded Express pants screamed
last day before laundry.
After giving up on the reflection—I was never winning Fairest of Them All at this point—I realized Jamie was still holding
out his hand. Doh. I was really making a great impression on the guy. I shook his hand and focused all my energy on ignoring
the romance novel–like sparks that shot down to my toes when our palms came into contact with one another. I accidentally
looked up and my eyes slammed into his sparkly kryptonite green ones. Like Superman, I was instantly rendered powerless.
“Madeline.” Richard’s voice brought me back to reality. Happy for the interruption, I dropped Jamie’s hand like a hot potato.
“How long have you been with us now?”