Up late, the husband asleep and decided to watch "Shattered Glass", a movie I avoided seeing back in 2003 because I was employed as a fact-checker at a magazine at the time. It hadn't been my idea goal but just two years earlier, at the age of 22, the dotcom bubble burst and all the jobs for grads seemed to vaporize.
I was lucky to land a spot freelance fact-checking a shopping guide at New York magazine. I had to beg some poor writer who had come to my journalism class to put in a good word for me. Once I was there, I was shy and sought a mentor. I did not find one. I began to feel that I did not have the outside personality to make an impression on people. At least not yet.
It was my greatest fear to fuck up a story. I lived in fear of an editor yelling at me for holding up a story or having to call a writer to ask for more back up and source notes. And what were facts? The age of a celebrity? When an actor became sober? How a person felt a particular moment? Being a fact-checker meant not thinking too much and yet doing all of the thinking.
To be a perfect fact-checker was to barely exist. No one knew who you were unless you fucked up. You were the clean-up crew. It was your job to get your hands dirty so that the final project looked sparkling at the end. The fact-checkers didn't win awards or receive presents from luxe companies at Christmas. It wasn't a glamorous job. It was a way in. And hopefully, a way up.
That job led to other fact-checking jobs. In 2005, I ended my fact-checking career at a big women's magazine. I'd written some stories and gotten a few bylines. I had dreams of greatness (who doesn't?) in graduate school but by 26, I'd lost my confidence completely. It was a different world than the world of the late 1990s it seemed. Things felt shaky, there were always talks of layoffs. I was never in the right place at the right time. I would never break that ceiling. I would never get anywhere near the ceiling, let alone finagle a poking instrument to get me near enough to the ceiling. You get my drift.
"Shattered Glass" does an excellent of showing how much stock young people I knew in my 20s put into working at a Name Magazine. It was envy and lust. It was who you knew and if you didn't know someone you were in for a slow ride. It was having email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Your email address could make or break you. Its what everyone said! Anyway, it gave you entree. You were paid nothing, you were often treated like nothing (unless you were a "boy genius" like Stephan Glass) but it was a great crutch for building an identity, a challenge for anyone in their mid 20s. Special people, trying to be special at places that seemed so very special.
There are some good magazines out there and a lot of people who work really, really hard to put them out every month. There are a few really great online publications who work on tiny budgets and push out content on a daily and hourly basis. But I wonder if anyone feels that pride anymore that a magazine or web site or TV news show is so storied, so fantastic, so amazing that they want to be associated with it as part of their identity. I don't know.
It is an interesting time to look back on this film because in many ways, it seems like a relic of a lost time, like the bustling newsroom of Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday and All the President's Men must seem to to newspaper journalists now. What will the heyday of online journalism look when they make the movie about it 2013?
And haven't there been so many fabulists since that Stephen Glass's story seems like one of many? Or maybe it was just a fabulist economy under which we lived and were employed. It seems that way now.