Bert Brilliant writes a column for The Daily Planet. Norman Naive is one of the young up-and-comers who sits a few desks away. Every few days, they go have Chinese food and good Dutch beer and figure ways to make the world a perfect place.
"Well, youngster, do you want to congratulate me now, or do you want to wait until after the egg rolls?"
"(Munch, munch) After the egg rolls, if you don't mind, Bert. It sounds as if I'll need extra strength."
"Norman, you could be such a winning young man if you would only learn to treat your elders with greater deference. And if you'd learn to take a hint."
"(Gobble, slurp) The only person I take hints from is my stockbroker, Bert."
"Such principles in you young journalists! In my day, we got into this business for the love of it. The roar of the presses and the smell of the ink! The wonders of city editors who spat and snarled! The glories of rewrite men who drank all their meals! Why, when we got paid, Norman, we thought of it as a bonus."
"Yeah, well, I think of it as the rent."
"And what do you think of this, youngster? Your luncheon companion has just been nominated for the 83rd annual Middle Atlantic Columnistic Excellence and All-Around Great Guy Award. Okay, it ain't the Pulitzer, Norman. I realize that. But I'm not ashamed to admit that I'd love to win it. Something for the wall in the den, eh?"
"Bert, we've been friends a long time -- "
"Norman, that's usually shorthand for, 'You're full of it.' "
"Bert, I would like to be the most recent -- certainly not the first, certainly not the last -- to tell you that you're full of it."
"And why is that, you sweet thing?"
"Because awards for journalists are a terrible idea."
"I wasn't sure if I saw you sniffing that bottle of soy sauce, Norman. I thought my eyes had deceived me -- but now I know they didn't. Awards for journalists a terrible idea? Why? Doctors get awards. Lawyers get awards. Country music singers get awards. Why not journalists?"
"Because it sends the wrong message to the readers. It says we're in the business to collect honors, not to give the public good journalism. It says we're all a bunch of self-congratulatory ego cases, instead of people who want to produce good reporting for its own sake."
"Norman, I have written 4,500 columns, and I've been nominated for a prize for just one of them. That means I've delivered 'good reporting for its own sake' 4,499 times, and had a chance to stoke my vanity once. Does that make me a candidate for a size 12 hat?"
"Maybe you're different, Bert. But you and I both know that the journalism schools are full of people who can't wait to stand up there with the plaque in their hands and hear that applause. A guy I went to college with is a journalism professor, and he told me one of his students has seen 'All the President's Men' 412 times!"
"Norman, awards might corrupt that kid, but they won't corrupt me. If I win the Middle Atlantic, I won't be any different. I'll still brush my teeth right-handed. I'll still prefer blue striped ties. I'll still order kung pao chicken. I just don't see why I can't covet something to show my grandchildren."
"Just show them the 4,500 columns, Bert. Let your work speak for itself. Why call attention to it? It calls attention to itself every time those presses start to turn."
"Some day, youngster, you'll know what I'm talking about, because some day, you'll face this one yourself. Oh, I know, Mr. Pure-As-The-Driven-Snow wouldn't dream of entering his own stuff in any journalism contest. But what if somebody does it for you, Norman? What if someone decides that one of those District Building scandals you're always hammering at is worth special recognition? I predict you'll change your spots faster than a leopard."
"If somebody nominates one of my stories for an award, Bert, I'll trot out the line I used in the student council race back in high school. If nominated, I decline to run. If elected anyway, I decline to serve."
"Which means that you'd take the plaque and chuck it in the trash?"
"Which means I'd refuse to take the plaque at all. If they forced it on me like a subpoena, I'd send it back to them, C.O.D."
"What if there were a check?"
"The United Way takes checks."
"You really are a saint, aren't you?"
"Not exactly. I wrote a terrific story last week, and not a single, solitary woman in the whole newsroom said a single, solitary word."
"The basest motive of all! At last, truth!"
Just then the fortune cookies arrived.
"Next Thursday?" asked Bert.
"Next Thursday," said Norman.
And they shuffled back to the office.