The newspaper game

HERE’S HOW I got into the glamorous newspaper business.

It was 1969, and I needed a job. I had no newspaper training, not a single journalism class to my name. I was married. I had a kid. I was 24. I had little money.

My father had been in the newspaper business. He had retired early at age 49. He knew the managing editor of the New Orleans States-Item, and I was living in New Orleans. Dad put in a good word for me, and I got hired as a reporter. I was a piss-poor reporter.

Old fedora felt hat with a press cardHere’s how my reporting career came to a quick halt. It was gruesome. And I had only been a reporter for a few weeks.

There was a police scanner in the newsroom. One day we heard that a kid had drowned in Lake Pontchartrain. The city editor told me to head to the boy’s house and request a photo to run in the paper with the story of his death.

I drove quickly to the home. I don’t recall how we got the address. I walked to the front door, rang the bell, and a woman appeared. She was smiling. Uh-oh, I said to myself. I had arrived before the police. No one had yet informed the family.

I told her I was from the newspaper and asked if the boy was home. No, she replied, he’s at school, confirming my suspicion. Why? she asked. There must be a mistake, I replied, backing down the sidewalk, wanting to flee as soon as possible.

Here you see what separates wusses from hard-bitten reporters. Geraldo Rivera would have told her that her boy had drowned, watched her collapse screaming to the sidewalk, and he would have returned to the newsroom to write a “color” story.

But I’m not Geraldo Rivera. I skedaddled to my car, as she followed, getting concerned now, asking why I was there. I drove off. I knew at that moment that I had no business being a newspaper reporter. I lacked the stomach for it.

Plus, I did not like wearing ties and dealing with people.

I requested a transfer to the copy desk the next day. I became a copyeditor, and I stayed one for 30 years with the occasional detour into short-termed occupational lunacies.

Even now, so many years later, just thinking of those moments at that door makes me cringe a bit. I don’t know how real reporters do it, the heartless bastards.

And I still have never taken a journalism class.

* * * *

(Note 1: For a more in-depth look at my checkered newspaper career, go here.)

(Note 2: When I retired in December of 1999, the mainstream media were still mostly honest, unbiased and principled. With some exceptions, mostly independent and online, they aren’t now. They are corrupt shills for the Democrat Party.)

14 thoughts on “The newspaper game

  1. I loved that story. And when did it all change? I say when reporters started putting their names in the byline. Prior to that, reporting was factual: the first paragraph had to have the who, what, where and why, so the reader didn’t have to read to the last sentence to get the meat of the story. Then everything changed, The first paragraph had to be a teaser, to get the reader to read more. And now with the internet, you tell even less in the first paragraph, because you want the reader to subscribe to get any facts. No names, no addresses, etc. No wonder I haven’t subscribed to home delivery for more than 40 years. Why did reporters always have a card stuck in their hat band?

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    1. Phil: Thanks. No, it did not change with bylines because bylines have existed forever. There were a number of watersheds. A big one was Watergate. Before Watergate, getting into the news business was fairly easy. I did it with no training whatsoever. It was to a great degree an itinerant trade before Watergate. My father’s recommendation helped me, of course.

      After Watergate, it became a really glamorous occupation. Journalism schools were jammed, which they were not before. Every other college student was majoring in journalism. Everyone wanted to be Bernstein and Woodward. The kind of people in the field changed too. Before, there were lots of alcoholics and losers, the sort of people you saw in 1930s and ’40s movies, but folks who could usually write or investigate, sometimes both. After Watergate, fresh-faced, young, eager beavers got into the field.

      The PC movement then kicked in, politicizing and poisoning journalistic minds. We lost our way. While we were always mostly Democrats it changed from being a personal preference to an obsession. PC did incalculable damage to newsrooms as it also did to society as a whole. And it just got worse and worse till we have what we have today.

      The cards in the hats were just to identify reporters in the olden days at crime scenes, etc., to get us past police lines and other such things.

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      1. Phil’s question is one I have been thinking about recently. You have the correct era, but the wrong event. To my recollection, it was the publication of the Pentagon Papers that changed the attitude of newspaper reporters. The editors and reporters who had been so cozy with polticians were shocked — shocked, I say — to discover that Jack Kennedy, who they adored and thought was their friend, had been telling bald-faced lies to them about Vietnam. They already disliked Johnson and Nixon, but that crisis of faith instilled a missionary zeal to take on government. Watergate then ratcheted the whole thing up another notch. Not only could the press pursue truth, it could topple presidents.

        If the press had kept that same sense of purpose, that it is an institution to ferret out facts no matter where the trail may lead, the nation would have been better-served than what eventually happened. It did not take the press long to once again cozy up to power in the Clinton years with “boys will be boys” defenses. But the ultimate fall from grace came during the Obama years when the press decided the president did not have an adequate publication relations team, so they volunteered for the job. Needless to say, the current administration is not the beneficiary of any similar treatment.

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        1. Señor Cotton: The effects of the Pentagon Papers were not the same as what Watergate started and the new sort of people it sucked into the profession. And then political correctness, which tied in beautifully with Obama’s self-identifying as black. The Perfect Storm sort of thing.

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  2. It seems like journalistic “standards” are plumbing new lows virtually every single day now. How in God’s name did NBC’s Chuck Todd make some kind of innocent “mistake” when he selectively edited CBS’s interview with Bill Barr, and then made an issue out of what was edited out as if somehow Barr had done something wrong? I mean, this is almost as bad as it gets.

    And for all of those folks who say, “But I saw it with my own eyes,” here’s the ultimate proof that though you think you saw something with your own eyes, what you really saw was a selectively edited video, not the truth.

    And then the press has the nerve to run around accusing the president of lying.

    Yeah, you’d have to be soulless, unethical psychopath to be a “journalist” these days.

    Sad!

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we think the press is the single most divisive force in the country.

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  3. I started college in the fall of 1981 as a journalism major. After two semesters I switched to education. I saw the end of print journalism as coming soon, and I didn’t like the looks of broadcast journalism and all that it implied. I can understand your distaste for reporting after the incident with the clueless mother. That must have been an encounter one doesn’t forget easily. It is sad to see the sorry, sordid mess that passes for broadcast news these days. I’m glad that I didn’t go down that path.

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  4. I suspect it changed when it went from a job to a profession that required training and indoctrination at the universities. They turned out social justice warriors who were absolutely sure they knew what the world needed.

    When it was news, it was a bunch of crusty old guys, but now most of the staff nowadays are women. They like cookie recipes and feature articles.
    But I want to know what those explosions and all that gunfire was about.

    Ladies find it uncomfortable writing about dead bodies. They prefer articles about leveling the playing field, even if it means shortening one leg of the successful. They see injustice in success. The winners must be responsible for the failure of others.

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    1. Señor Gill: Interesting point. I don’t know if the male-female ratio has changed. I bet it has. How much? Got no clue. But they do see things differently, women vs. men. When I got started in the late 1960s, there are next to no female reporters on the straight-news side of things. They did society news. I can see how women would object to that. Had I been one, I would have objected too, but there was scant objection.

      Also when I started, it was a job, not so much a profession, and you could just walk in off the street and get hired. To a large degree, it was an itinerant occupation. Moving from one city to another was not rare, and on the copydesks, editors were often paid in cash at the end of the week or even the end of the day.

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  5. The industry has become more inclusive. Lots of gays, lots of women, lots of people of color and they bring with them their own perspective on life. Why subscribe to a newspaper that blames all of the woes of the world on the white working class?

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