Adventures of an Old Newspaper Writer

Interview notes on the way back to the newsroom from an assignment often found their first light of day in the little notebook.   Driving and writing at the same time is a skill.
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We wrote on newsprint those days, long sheets the size of legal pads, whitish and cheap but useful.    There were no computers in most news rooms in those days, and when working on deadline editors would literally yank finished “takes” out of the typewriter.   A “take” was the double spaced type on the newsprint page.   The pages were then glued together in a long strip with rubber cement, corrected or improved or spiced-up by the editor and then passed on to the copy desk to be further enhanced.

All these memories poured forth from the dim recesses of my packed brain, from a category called Reporter.  I was reading a novel in which the main character was a reporter who had joined the staff at a larger newspaper, and as luck would have it (in novels) a choice story fell into this man’s lap.   The novel is good, I enjoyed it very much, it is well plotted and the characters are believable and well rounded.  But what I liked most about this novel is that it is set in an old fashioned newsroom very similar to the one in which I worked thirty years ago, and brought back a flood of mostly happy memories.   The plot is so realistic it could almost be a documentary film.

When I got the job I was not a reporter.  I had no training, no background, no experience.   I had been working as General Manager of a small weekly paper, more of a glorified clerk than anything else.   Then the paper was bought out by a new owner, and the new hot shots filling the editor and manager jobs were hired because they had years of experience and … well, I didn’t.  I had written a couple of things.   A column called Girl Scouting chronicled the weekly meetings with action-packed accounts of…well, the Girl Scouts.    Then one day I came upon a garbage truck on fire…that was a real scoop!

So I went to the daily-and-Sunday paper that covered half of the county.  In short, I all but begged the editor to give me a chance at being a correspondent covering my home town, and as it would turn out most of the township and council meetings and school board meetings in the county, with exception of the two major cities.   Well, the editor hired me because he had no one else to put on the beat.   It was a one-shot, coverage of a major school levy committe meeting.   It was a very big deal, as small town meetings go.   The reporting I did on that meeting was apparently sufficient, because I was assigned to write feature stories on two assignments…a Jaycees chapter being formed at the state prison farm.   Big time.   It was Christmas, and there was a brightly trimmed and lighted tree in the room where the meeting was held.   I did the interview, chatted with a few prisoners who were going to be members of the group.      My unintentionally hilarious lead paragraph was something like: “Crime prevention is of major importance to inmates of the prison farm.”      My next big story was a feature on two elderly brothers who operated a landscape tree farm.   The big story there was that one of the brothers had quit smoking, and his brother was growing tobacco on the property.   Potential for a Pulitzer there.

I don’t recall the progression of my career as a correspondent.   About two years later, working part-time, the paper created a full-time position working in my home town, police and fire calls, school board meetings and school feature stories.

Those were the days!

5 Comments

  1. You made your own path, Gradmama, one glue pot at a time. Nice memories of those first feature stories, a prison farm and landscape tree farm. Who knew where they’d branch off into?

    1. Thanks, Mark. I have been very lucky in life. Working for the paper really changed my life. It also gave me a thirst for knowledge, and led me to college, and some higher education. My favorite? Writing and research….and now I’m a blogger. The only time I ever really content is when I am writing. I didn’t go for journalism, but am a Historian…which is also very rewarding.

      1. I’m glad your niche is still rewarding you every day, Gradmama. My blog and freelance writing satisfies me and rewards me and makes me happy every day.

    2. ooh, speaking of glue pots I once accidentally dumped a pot of glue on this really cool English guy’s desk, spilling it on several “takes” of copy. He was very nice about it, though, and even let me use his giant black umbrella to walk over to the court house in the rain. That rubber cement stuff could be really nasty. 🙂

      1. Two good things about rubber cement, as I recall: You sort of got accustomed to the smell. And once it dried, you could peel it off of anything you mistakingly poured it upon. I’m glad your Englishman did not turn into a Mad Dog, Gradmama. 🙂

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