over on The Other Side of Paris, dumdad has been telling us how he got started in journalism. he was a sub-editor for many years at the prestigious Daily Telegraph, and his blog is awash in hilarious stories and great photos. (check out his sidebar for two serials: "My Fleet Street Years" and "My First Newspaper.")
so, in hopes that if i tell my story i, too, might find myself living in paris, here's my humble rip-off of his great idea.
Birth of a Hack: part one
I was 11. or possibly 12. i decided that journalism was my future. why? why not? i loved to write, i loved to snoop, i always wanted to know everything first. those are pretty much the only real qualifications, if you get right down to it. being only 11 or 12, i had no immediate job opportunities, but that didn't stop me. i launched my own paper and called it, with the typical imagination and brilliance of a true journalist, NEWSPAPER.
(it's better that journalists aren't imaginative, actually. it's better for journalists to stick rather prosaically to the facts.)
the circulation of this fabulous rag was approximately 10. that is, my immediate family over at 2315. i briefly thought i might make a little money at this (another common mistake of young journalists) and tried to charge people to read it. lacking a printing press (or a xerox machine), i only produced one copy of each issue, and i trotted it around the house handing it to various family members and trying to wheedle a nickel out of them. it might even be that i started at a dime and then lowered the price. i don't remember. i do remember, though, that whatever the price was, nobody paid me.
eventually, i just tacked it up on the bulletin board in the kitchen and then spied around the corner to see if anybody took it down and read it.
(digression: it's a lot like blogging, come to think of it. you end up just sort of begging people to read you, for free. the thought flits through your brain that maybe you could pay them and thereby get even more readers.)
my entrepreneurial little brothers knew a good idea when they saw one, and they quickly outflanked me. they were smarter, they were cuter, there were two of them, being twins, and all. so after the first couple of issues of NEWSPAPER came out (stolid and gray, hand-drawn by yours truly, carefully mimicking the leggy style of professional newspapers, with those long skinny columns of type), they launched a rival paper.
being smarter and cuter and having twice as many brains to work with, they came up with a better concept. their publication was called MAGAPAPER--half-newspaper, half-magazine.
theirs was in color, damn them. they used crayons. the stories were shorter (much shorter), and they drew lots of pictures. their publication took itself less seriously than mine, and it folded in half like a book instead of going broadsheet, as mine did.
it was USA TODAY, 20 years ahead of its time!
but i am nothing if not stubborn, and i outlasted them.
the twins rather quickly went on to other exploits (primarily, building a fort in the back yard) while i continued my weekly drudgery, churning out my earnest rag for months before it dwindled away. all issues have been lost to the mists of time, and i only remember one story, a screaming banner headline that shouted, MARGO FLUEGEL HAS ANOTHER BIRTHDAY!! Margo Fluegel being my best friend at the time.
as you can see, i was well suited for daily journalism; reporting on my friend's birthday was eerily similar to the editor-hits-pothole assignment that all professional reporters have come to dread.
("editor-hits-pothole" is reporter shorthand for a story that is generated by an editor who experiences something on the way to work. often the editor figures that because he experienced it, it's newsworthy, and then some poor unsuspecting schmuck gets tasked with making a story out of it.)
with the demise of NEWSPAPER, my career in journalism languished, until i was 19 and looking for a full-time job. Mrs. H., my boss at the public library (where, as some of you might recall, i was earning 75 cents an hour), was throwing out suggestions, trying to help me think of a job where i could make enough money to stay in college.
i was thinking small--maybe i could be a receptionist, or a secretary. my mom, meanwhile, had high hopes that i would become a flight attendant, so that she and the rest of my beloved family could fly around the world for free. but i could not picture myself serving people coffee and wearing a perky little blue hat. i especially could not picture myself serving my family coffee while they were flying off somewhere fabulous for free while i was stuck eternally on an airplane.
Mrs. H. was my salvation. "maybe you should get a job at the newspaper, or one of the TV stations," she said.
at this, i perked right up. Hmmmmm......television!
TO BE CONTINUED