I was thinking today about one of the most incompetent people I've ever worked with. Ace was her name. Not really. Ace was a nickname that she had given to herself. Read that again: a nickname that she had given to herself.
On Thursday, May 13, 1999, Charles Mapes Jr., erstwhile owner of the Mapes Hotel, took his final breath in a San Diego hospital.
I was working at the time as a weekend video editor at a Reno, Nev., television station (job No. 11 on this list). The news of Mapes' death didn't reach the journalistic backwaters of Reno's news wire until late Friday. But if you know anything about television news -- small market television news, especially -- you know that news magically stops happening at 5 p.m., when the assignment editor goes home. Ace was the assignment editor. Her job was to keep news crews organized and stay on top of what was happening in the region.
In TV news, the process of building a newscast is sometimes called "stacking a show," a phrase derived from the process of building a newscast's rundown in an orderly stack on an Excel-like spreadsheet. It sort of looks like this; it is easy to understand, lives on a common server and is there for all to see. As was usually the case, our 11 p.m. newscast on Saturday, May 15, 1999, was stacked by 2:30 p.m., thanks to the extreme efficiency of our producer, Landeros.
Ace wandered in at about 3 p.m. and immediately went into her routine of wearing a telephone headset and occasionally tapping on keys. This was supposed to signal that she was working. She was filling in for the alcoholic that normally worked that shift who was so incompetent that we had developed a sort of commune system of running the newsroom that went around the assignment desk. So Ace was ignored and we quietly went about our routine of putting together a newscast that was totally above the caliber you would expect for even a top news market.
At about 8 p.m., Ace suddenly pounded her desk and shouted across the newsroom: "OH MY GOD! RESTACK THE SHOW!"
"What?" we yelped almost in unison, snapping to attention.
"CHARLES MAPES IS DEAD! THIS IS BIG."
"Yes, Ace..." Landeros said, in his trying-to-talk-someone-off-the-ledge voice.
"I MEAN BIG-BIG. HE WAS HUGE IN THIS TOWN."
"It's in the show, Ace."
"THE MAPES IS A LANDMARK. IT'S... what?"
"It's in the show. At the top of the rundown. I put it in first thing. We've got it covered."