Drugs at the New York Times: A Reporter’s Challenge

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What’s a young reporter to do when he’s assigned to investigate a newspaper drug scene after a series of overdoses? Try to blend in. astag_rocky realized recently that it’s harder than one might think.

Late last month, 10 New York Times writers were hospitalized for drug overdoses, and a few days later, five employees were arrested on drug-related charges.

As I’ve passed the New York Times building several times in a cab, and have known several people who have written for the Times, my editors decided I should go up to New York, New York to see what I could find out about the drug scene. Since I have an I.D. that says I’m 24, and can grow a beard long enough to plausibly pass for a current Times writer, my editors realized I was the perfect person to gauge reactions from various Times employees and random people passing by on the street.

But there was still some confusion about what exactly had happened — why had so many reporters taken bad drugs, where did they come from, and why did the police think these five employees were the ones responsible as opposed to any of the other miserable middle-aged New York Times writers?

It was a CRAZY story that had received a lot of national attention, and I was a bundle of anxiety and panic when I got the assignment. Even now that I am in college, I have never really wanted to go to parties (they seem scary), and now I was going to have to spend a Friday night trying to find out where parties were at a publication that I don’t work for and didn’t know anyone? Nightmarish.

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Also, no one has ever really offered me drugs in college (Wesleyan is one of the most sober schools in the country LOL), so I had no idea how I was supposed to find them. I told my younger and much cooler brother (shoutout to Ben) I had to go to the New York Times to report on drugs. He answered: “Why are they sending you? You’re practically a narc.” Not quite sure what that means, Ben, but thank you. And so, the stage was set.

Luckily, I had been put in touch with one reporter who seemed pretty “chill,” as the kids are saying these days–at least radder than me–so I emailed him to ask if I could hang out with him on Friday (which is a day I’m told people leave their rooms, stop watching Carly Rae Jepsen music videos and, “go out”).

I thought I would need to be pretty sly, and I tried to sell him with this slick line: “I may not be cool, but at least I don’t look too young.”how-do-you-do-fellow-kids

He told me that he was going to be out of town on Friday night (wtf?), but that we could meet on Friday afternoon, and he would find some chillers at the Times who might want to talk to me and maybe I could hangout with them. He found one person who would sit for an interview; but that person did not want to take me around to various Times parties in the city (THANKS CARON).

I was put in touch with the friend of a cousin of a friend of my older sister’s dog’s roommate’s doubles partner whom he met in rehab, because no connection is too tenuous, apparently. When I showed up at the Times, he graciously invited me in.

I was surprised, because the other reporters whom I had interviewed were slightly cagey about talking to me. (Weird, because when I went up to them and said “hi, TELL ME ABOUT THE DRUGS,” they looked at me strangely.) It turned out he thought I was a high school student who was interested in writing for the New York Times. As if. We passed an uncomfortable hour as I tried to ask him questions about drugs–”which end of the joint do you smoke?”–and he tried his best not to answer. He did better than I did.

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I later ran into someone who I knew from college who now writes for the Times, who let me go to dinner with him and his friends – all of whom were pretty willing to talk to me about the “drugs,” except that they didn’t know that people at the New York Times did drugs (besides smoking the pot). I could TOTALLY relate.

He also let me go to have drinks in a friend’s office before going out to a Times-sponsored concert with him, which was really nice, and I almost felt like a real reporter at the New York Times and not a random and unwanted college student intruding upon everyone’s personal space. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear anyone talking about drugs, let alone doing them, and I was very disappointed to learn that rumors that everyone at the Times sits at their desk with their face in a  Scarface-like mound of cocaine all day went unconfirmed.

During the concert, we were talking and he used the turn “FOMO” which stands for “fear of missing out.” (I already knew this because I’m hip.) He then turned to me and said, “Oh that stands for fear of missing out, I don’t know if you know.”

“Yeah, I know, ‘bro,'” I told him, finally feeling that I no longer had any fear of missing out on what happens at the New York Times on a Friday night in February. While I came to find the drugs, or maybe just some friendship, what I left with was far more important: That my journalism is pretty irrelevant.

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