From the time I was a kid I always wanted to be a writer, and especially a newspaperman. I consider myself very lucky that for most of my life I’ve made my living with the written word and been able to own and publish quite a few small town newspapers.
Over the years I’ve seen a lot of reporters come and go, many of them enamored with the idea of seeing their byline on a newspaper page. Some of them watch too much television or movies and actually think it’s a glamorous profession. It isn’t.
I always made it a point to have openings for college interns studying journalism so they had the opportunity to get hands-on experience, and I saw a lot of them at my different operations. Some were excellent, some were good and probably found a home on a newspaper someplace, and a few of them really should have considered another line of work. But all of them soon learned that it’s not all fun and games.
One of the first things I would tell new interns was that if you want to make a million dollars in the newspaper business, the easiest way to do that is to start out with five million. You can whittle a whole bunch of that away in a hurry. Then I would seriously tell them that if they wanted to work in this business, the best way to make money was to become an advertising salesperson. I never had a newspaper where my ad salespeople who worked hard didn’t make more money than my reporters. That’s just the reality of the business.
And I’d tell them not to start out thinking they were going to be the modern-day version of Woodward and Bernstein. (Does anybody even know who they are these days?) While small towns may not have all of the action of the big city, there’s still plenty to cover in the news. And big paper or small, a new reporter is going to spend most of their time doing the not-so-fun stuff like writing obituaries, covering meetings of the garden club and American Legion and organizations like that, researching things for the “real reporters,” and getting frustrated. It’s all part of the learning process.
But sometimes a newbie finds themself in the middle of a big story and wishes they hadn’t. A very nice young woman named Tracy came to work at one of my newspapers, and on her very first day, she literally walked into a big, bloody story. A pickup truck with several members of the White Mountain Apache Tribe riding in it was broadsided on the highway right in front of our office. Tracy heard the crash and looked out as debris was still flying through the air. She was the only reporter around, and Melissa, the office manager, told her to grab a camera and go cover it.
It was a terrible accident as I recall, with at least four fatalities, and two of them were children who had been riding in the back of the truck. This was before the days of cell phones and Melissa paged me, and I headed back to the office as quickly as I could. By then, the first responders were on the scene doing their thing. To give Tracy credit, she had gotten pictures and all the important details of who was driving what vehicle, witness statements, and comments from the police officers.
When I walked up to Tracy where she was standing on the side of the road, she looked like she was in a trance. I spoke to her twice before she even realized I was there. I took her by the arm and walked her back to the office, where she ran to the restroom and lost her breakfast, lunch, and anything else she had eaten in the previous 48 hours.
Then I had her lie down on the couch in my office with the lights out to give her some time to decompress, because she was completely traumatized by what she had seen. An hour so later, Melissa drove her home, and I was pretty sure we’d seen the last of Tracy.
But she was back the next day, and when I asked her how she was doing she said, “Nobody ever told me that this job was going to suck so much. But I guess if I got through that on my first day, I can handle anything.”
And she did. Tracy went on to be an excellent reporter whose byline became frequent in my newspapers. I lost track of her over the years, and I don’t know if she stayed in the newspaper business or went in another direction. But wherever she is and whatever she did, I’m sure she did it well.
It’s Thursday, so it’s time for a new Free Drawing. This week’s prize is a four-book set of audiobooks from my pal Carol Ann Newsome’s popular Dog Park mystery series. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening. Note: Due to the high shipping cost of printed books and Amazon restrictions on e-books to foreign countries, only entries with U.S. addresses and e-mail addresses are allowed.
Thought For The Day – They told me I couldn’t. That’s why I did.
I actually like small town newspapers better than the big city ones. They just have more personality. One of my favorite stories from a small town newspaper was a few years ago in the paper from my dad’s hometown. They had a column about who had visitors, what was served, that kind of thing. Well, evidently, one of the Texas Tenors had gone to school there and was close with his old high school music teacher, so she invited him to use her home to shower and prepare for a concert he was going to perform for the hometown crowd. She forgot to tell him that she had moved and he and the family who now lived in the house both got quite a surprise when he got out of the shower.