By Mark Memmott

There was a dust-up in the newsroom of The Washington Post last Friday, when a Style section editor, Henry Allen, apparently got very offended by something said by one of the reporters, Manuel Roig-Franzia.

Allen, 68, threw a punch, as Politico reports. He and Roig-Franzia had to be separated. Washington City Paper has considerably more -- and considerably profane -- detail.

A couple interesting things have come out as this story's been circulating:

-- One was the search for what, in Allen's opinion, is the worst journalism he's seen in his long career. The search began because, as City Paper reported, Allen had apparently made Roig-Franzia quite angry by calling some recent work by another reporter the "second-worst piece I've ever had handed to me in 43 years."

According to City Paper, that No. 1 "worst" is a Style-section profile of singer/actor Paul Robeson from about 10 years ago that was so bad it didn't get published.

-- And the other interesting result is the nostalgia that some in the newspaper/news media business apparently feel for the "good old days" when tempers often flared in newsrooms.

Allen himself tells Politico that "back when I got into journalism, the idea that a fistfight in a newsroom would turn into a news story was unthinkable. ... The guys in the sports department at the New York Daily News, they had so many, you wouldn't even look up."

The Post's resident funny man, Gene Weingarten, said in his weekly online "Chatological Humor" chat today that even though young people shouldn't follow Allen's example:

The first thing I want to say is, hooray. Hooray that there is still enough passion left somewhere in a newsroom in America for violence to break out between colorful characters in disagreement over the quality of a story. ...
Newsrooms used to be places filled with interesting eccentrics driven by unreasonable passions -- a situation thought of as "creative tension" and often encouraged by management in eras when profits were high and arrogance was seen not as a flaw but a perquisite of being smart and right.

Gawker is calling Allen the "undefeated champ-een of the Washington Post Style desk."

He was already near the end at the Post, having taken a buyout. According to Politico, Allen has a few weeks left and "isn't expected to work out of the newsroom for the remainder of his time."

All this does remind this blogger of some "old days" when walls -- not people -- were punched at USA TODAY. And while it didn't happen every day, it was not unusual for a "discussion" to end with some profanities.

I haven't seen any such behavior at NPR since I came in April.

Not that I'm condoning such things, of course.

categories: Media

1:58 - November 3, 2009