“You Could Hear People Laughing and Cursing and Then Heading for the Local Bar”

Barney Collier about working next to Jimmy Breslin at the New York Herald Tribune and the HBO show “Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists.”

Our bruised and beaten desks were next to each other in the back left corner of the New York Herald Tribune newsroom and I enjoyed overhearing the professional brilliance of Breslin as an interviewer, a writer, a raconteur, a mentor, and a fearless truth teller, which often led to a lot of humor and fun.

 I felt sad to watch him grow old but never mellow in an excellent documentary. But it was worth it to see again that black Irish head with coal fire eyes being himself again. He challenged me as a reporter to listen with care to what people say, and how; to look beneath the surface and into the heart of a matter, and into myself, as well. 
In moments late at night, when we were both typing our notes and stories in an almost empty room, Jimmy would wax philosophical about life, death, and the fearlessness he felt good reporters must have to concoct a story that transcends the next day’s fate at the bottom of the bird cage. 
He believed that written words are the only path to immortality.

And here’s a look at the Breslin-Hamill documentary from Mike Kelly of the North Jersey Record. Some excerpts:

The film is. . .a look back to a lost age, when journalists tapped on typewriters and newsrooms were aglow with cigarettes and there was nothing called Twitter.But in these present times, when journalism is under siege financially and politically, the film is also a reminder of why the media is so vital to American life and democracy. . . .There is so much to be said about the influence of Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill on an entire generation of journalists. Breslin’s deeply emotional column of the $3-an-hour African-American laborer who dug President John F. Kennedy’s grave in 1963 continues to be a staple of discussions today in journalism schools. . . .But this film is also a reminder that journalism, if it is any good, is really about having a heart–and not being afraid to listen to where your heart leads you. At the same time, it’s also a film about having a backbone in the face of cheap criticism. . .

He [Hamill] said he misses the old-style city rooms of New York newspapers that were filled with billowing clouds of cigarette smoke and the perennial screaming of impatient editors.

“I loved the pre-computer city room,” he said, “and the sense of the city room and that great metallic roar as we worked towards deadline, when you could hear people laughing and cursing and then heading for the local bar to wait for the first edition.”

Speak Your Mind