A Reporter’s Carol
When Clark Kent awoke, he felt the cold in his bones. He fumbled for his glasses and put them on his now-bulbous nose. The clock said 8 a.m. “Humbug,” he muttered. Another depressing day at The Daily Planet. Kent had long since ceased complaining about the new management and staffing cuts, long since stopped bothering younger colleagues with, “When Perry White was in charge… ” To them, he was an old crank, and Kent couldn’t wait for retirement.
The day passed, and after work, Kent had a few drinks at the corner bar and headed home. He fell asleep in his chair. At midnight, he stirred. Feeling a chill, he saw that his window was open, and next to it shimmered the vaporous silhouette of Perry White himself. A bit of undigested beef? Not likely, thought Kent, a vegetarian for years. “Great Caesar’s Ghost, Kent!” the specter boomed. “Get up! I have things to show you.” The ghost told Kent to hold his arm, and they launched out from the window over the streets of the city. Kent was petrified; he’d forgotten how to fly.
They lighted at the city desk of the old Planet. A young reporter, huddled over his computer, hit a final key and turned and yelled, “You’ve got it, Chief! The city water department finally acknowledges toxins in the water supply.” Kent rubbed his eyes, and told the ghost, “That was me, just before I won the Pulitzer.” “Yes,” the specter said. “When you fought for Truth, Justice and the American Way.”
The ghost waved his hand, and the scene changed. It was the same room, but different. Now it was color coordinated and nicely decorated. A woman walked over to a pudgy, gray-haired, bespectacled man and said, “I need that Michael Jackson follow-up, and Channel 4 had a feature on holiday toys -— give me a brief on that, too.” Kent looked at the ghost and said, “That was me earlier today. The editors don’t care about real news any more — never give us any time to do real stories.” The spectral Perry White raised his eyebrows and asked, “Since when did that ever stop you?”
With another sweep of his hand, the ghost changed the scene again. The mayor and a crony sat smiling around a table of burnished walnut. “Mr. Mayor, the development deal is inked. You’ll get credit for wiping out a blighted neighborhood, the unions get their jobs and your supporters will get rich — richer, I mean.” The mayor laughed and recalled the one, short-lived threat to the project. “Remember when somebody tipped off that sap reporter about the public money going to contributors? He made one phone call, we denied it, and that was it.” The crony nodded and said, “That guy died today, by the way. Clark Kent. He was a tiger when he was young apparently, but he’s been a pussycat for years.” The mayor raised his tinkling glass of scotch and said, “Here’s to pussycats.” “And to saps,” the crony added, clinking.
“You see, Kent,” the ghost of Perry White gestured, “nobody’s watching the store anymore.” Kent shook his head. “But circulation’s dropped like a stone, the staff’s been cut, and nobody wants to anger the advertisers.” The vapory image cut him off. “What planet are you from? This is the information age! We don’t need hundreds of reporters, just a few great ones. And advertisers want eyeballs — they want vitality. You were once the symbol of vitality. What happened to you?”
Clark Kent awoke with a start. He flew to the open window and called to a youngster on the street, “Boy, what day is it?” The urchin called back, “It’s Election Day, sir.” Election Day! Kent considered his options. Too late for the paper…. but the Internet! Kent had hated the usurping Internet and the extra work his tepid weekly blog required. But he grabbed his laptop, and his fingers tapped the keys at super-human speed. “Great Caesar’s ghost indeed,” he said, adding a self admonition: “The fault, dear reporter, lies not in our stars but in ourselves.” He picked up the phone and dialed a number. “Give me the mayor’s office — tell him it’s Clark Kent calling.”