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.
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!