Giotto is the fictional creation of Rebecca Wallace, a California newspaper editor who has decided to go back to the good old days for newspapers — apparently that’s 1999 — and tweet about it.
Since late October, the account @reporter1999 has sent hundreds of tweets describing what life was like back in 1999. In a way, the tweets are little love notes to the newspaper industry of “old.” A time when there were at least four competing newspapers in a city and they each had enough staff to send a reporter to cover a house fire.
Stampede! Four print reporters, two TV, one wire service and three photogs running to a house fire. #iwasfirst
— Catherine Giotto (@reporter1999) November 23, 2011
The Twitter stream isn’t too different from reading that of a present-day reporter. Giotto tweets about going to boring meetings, her boyfriend and links to news stories, like this one.
The differences are subtle and many relate to pop culture. Giotto doesn’t think Napster will last. She has a pager instead of a cell phone. Her newsroom only has one computer hooked up to the Internet. Some things are exactly the same. Reporters still have to work on holidays. We all want to scoop the competition. It’s common to get rubber bands thrown at you. The police scanner is invaluable.
Crap. Got the Merc and saw that Al Gathright scooped me. Damn, that guy’s good. How did he get an interview with the wife of a bank robber?
— Catherine Giotto (@reporter1999) December 10, 2011
At first, there wasn’t a lot of information available on Wallace, who remains anonymous on @reporter1999’s Tumblr page. There, the editor describes herself as a “San Francisco Bay Area journalist who fondly remembers the days when the newspaper industry wasn’t collapsing in on itself.”
Sure, journalists had to cover a lot of bulls**t Y2K stories in 1999, and watch their techie friends grow fat on stock options. But they didn’t have to watch the majority of their coworkers get laid off.
Catherine’s creator was once one of those ink-stained wretches chasing stories in the ‘90s. She’s now a definitely sadder and possibly wiser newspaper editor, who likes to take a break from the industry mayhem around her to tweet as Catherine, who would have loved Twitter.
Wallace, who was unveiled as the editor in a post by the Daily Dot, told the online publication that she decided to stick with Giotto for @reporter1999 after using her as the main character in her novel, “Smiling at Strangers.” In an email interview with 10,000 Words, Wallace explained why she chose to set the book and the Twitter account in the dotcom boom.
“[I]t’s such a rich time period for exploration about how different life was in the newspaper business,” Wallace said. “It’s not that long ago, really, so there is a lot for today’s journalists to relate to in Catherine’s everyday life: the joy of getting an exclusive, for example, or the frustration of being sent out on a stupid story.”
“But so much has changed. For instance, when I was a newsroom intern, I had to go down to the police and fire stations every Friday to flip through the incident logs and write down anything interesting that had happened in the previous week. Of course now you can get all that online, but you don’t end up being such a familiar face in the stations.”
Wallace said that she plans to keep the account open past the new year but isn’t sure if Giotto will move into the 2000s and see the web change the newspaper industry.
“I like having her be in the center of the dotcom boom, but as a writer I’m always interested in seeing how characters react when major changes happen in their worlds,” Wallace said.
(Hat tip to The Daily Dot, who just hours after this post was published, revealed Wallace as the author.)