This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The First Day on the Job

            October has been so busy that I nearly got to the end of it without pausing to remember that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the beginning of my 19-year stint with the newspaper. Given how formative the experience was, the milestone can’t be allowed to pass without comment.
            For half the time I was at the paper, my starting date, 10/16/72, appeared on the paycheck, so I’m never going to forget it. Not only the date, but the day itself will be in my memory until my last breath.
            A major storm had blown in, and it was pouring rain as I drove to the office for that first day. I arrived shortly before 8, and Ward Bushee, the managing editor who had hired me, showed me my desk, with a beat-up Underwood manual typewriter, handed me a box of business cards and a list of phone numbers for the local fire stations and the Monterey County Highway Patrol. Making those calls was my first task.

Being Cheap With Cheap Paper

            When it was time to write up a story, a reporter would put a piece of cheap paper, the type with chunks of wood in it, into the typewriter. If the story was three paragraphs or less, you were supposed to use a half-sheet to save money. When you’d typed out the story, double-spaced, you were supposed to make any necessary changes or corrections with a #2 pencil, then jam the corner of the paper on to a spike on Ward’s desk, from which he would collect it for editing.
            Many young reporters, I’ve been told, impaled their thumbs on the sharp end of the spike in the early going. The fact that I never did no doubt singled me out as potential executive material.
            I was at the end of a row of desks, with Andre Neu, the school reporter, to my right, and Howard Sheerin, the city hall reporter, behind me. Howard retired two years later, and Andre left about the same time, eventually ending up as a journalism instructor at the local community college.
            The telephones were beige and covered with a layer of permanent grime from having been repeatedly touched by ink-stained hands. The headpieces had attachments screwed on that allowed a reporter to rest the phone on a shoulder while typing or taking notes longhand.

A Scoop on the First Day

            Late that morning, Marj Von B, our legendary crime reporter, called in with an exclusive story: Nick Drobac, one of the county’s three superior court judges, was resigning to go into private practice. There were no remote computers or even fax machines in those days, so she dictated the story to me over the phone while I typed it on the Underwood. Two hours later, one of the circulation staffers came into the newsroom with copies of that day’s paper and laid one on my desk. The Drobac story was right there on the front page.
            My beat was to be North Monterey County, so that afternoon, Bill Akers, who had been covering that area, took me out and introduced me to the harbormaster, the school superintendent and business officer, and the justice of the peace. Midway through that tour, the rain finally stopped. By the time we got back, it was almost quitting time.
            Andre Neu and Judge Drobac are still alive, but the others are all gone, though I’ll never forget them. In fact, I recently had occasion to contact Drobac in connection with a publication job I’m doing for a client. That first day was the beginning of something that still continues.