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On her first day, she called the newsroom staff together in a meeting room and, after a few minutes of small talk, got down to business. “A little birdie tells me your mayor has been up to a little extra-curricular rumpy-pumpy,” she said.
Silence fell over the room as we exchanged quizzical glances.
“Rumpy-pumpy?” someone finally asked.
“He’s boinking someone at city hall,” Debbie said, flashing a mischievous grin. “I hadn’t been at my desk more than five minutes when I got a tip that the mayor is having an affair.”
As news editor, I felt obliged to speak up. “OK, first of all, the mayor is 80 years old.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Debbie said, twirling a blond curl. “At my last paper, we had an 86-year-old archbishop who couldn’t keep his hands off his secretary. You know what our headline called him? His Horniness.”
“And second,” I continued, “I’m pretty sure I know who your source is. It’s Henry Busby, right? You know what his last tip was? That Chief Blake used to be a porn star. I mean, the guy’s crazy.”
Debbie’s face lit up. “Who’s Chief Blake?” she asked.
“The fire chief, Scott Blake, and—”
“This is great!” She sprang from her chair and started pacing. “The fire chief a porn star! Brilliant!”
“Except, like I told you—”
“Wait!” Debbie stopped in her tracks, eyes wide. She held her hands up making a frame in front of her face like a movie director. “I can see it. A big front-page splash. We’ll need a shot of the chief with flames behind him. And the headline will be...”
She paused, looking around at the breathless staff.
“The headline will be...Scott’s Burning Secret. No, wait. Hot Scott’s Burning Secret!”
She sat back down and smiled. “Yes! Now please tell me that the fire chief is a trim six-footer with a granite jaw and swept-back grey hair and a salt-and-pepper moustache. And that he still rides on the back of the fire trucks — sometimes.”
“He’s short, fat and bald,” I said. “And he rides a desk — all the time.”
Her shoulders sagged a little. “Oh well. Still a great story. Two great stories. I’m gonna like working here. Two sex scandals in one day!”
I said once more, “Henry Busby is crazy.”
“Well, you know what?” Debbie said, “Even crazy people can be right sometimes. Let’s check out both stories. OK? Back to work, everybody.”
She jumped up and breezed out of the room, leaving the rest of us to stare at each other, silent and slack-jawed.
Debbie had the opportunity to show off her specialty role as the Tearjerker one day during a meeting of the editorial board.
At large papers, the board is made up of the editorial page editor and editorial writers, and one of its functions is to interview politicians, businesspeople and other big shots who deign to visit the newsroom. For the Journal, “editorial board” was a grandiose term for a gathering of newsroom staffers who were too slow to duck under their desks when the managing editor came looking for “volunteers” to quiz a visiting VIP.
Provincial Health Minister William Joy was in town to meet with local Liberal faithful, and he agreed to stop by the Journal. Debbie roped me into joining the meeting, along with a few reporters and a photographer.
The minister, at 37 the youngest member of cabinet, opened with a somnolent speech about improvements to the health-care system. Debbie began to squirm with boredom, like an eight-year-old at the opera.
Then Joy made a big funding announcement: $10 million to expand and update the maternity ward at St. Clement’s Hospital. “I visited the ward this morning to tell the staff this great news,” he said. “As you can imagine, they were thrilled. They have a lot of wonderful—”
He hesitated, the words caught in his throat. “They have a lot of wonderful, caring people working there,” he continued, voice thick with emotion.
Debbie perked up, like a resting lion scenting prey.