Journalism One-oh-One

Following a stunningly successful career in distribution with the Gannett Company, I eventually did make it to the newsroom. Surprisingly, delivering the daily (Plainfield, N.J.) Courier News to nearly 100 residential customers by walking a paper route with a large canvas bag slung over one shoulder, does not prepare one for the writing part of the business.

Nor did the extra experience with my Sunday paper route for the Newark Star-Ledger help propel my journalism career forward. Even though it required assembling the weighty tome and its many inserts throughout the week.

While attending college I somehow persuaded the editor of the local daily (the Trenton [N.J.] Times, I think) to let me write a profile for their Sunday magazine. The story was about a musician, Harry Chapin, I had recruited to perform a concert at my college benefitting Multiple Sclerosis.

To deliver the story, carefully pecked out with three fingers on a manual typewriter, I drove to the newspaper’s office and handed it to the editor.

He perused the typescript, his glasses perched at the tip of his nose. After flipping through to the last page, he paused for another moment or two. And then picked up his blue pencil.

“You’re clearing your throat,” he growled, as his blue pencil slashed through the first three paragraphs of my story’s laboriously crafted and perfectly chiseled text.

The newsroom was organized like a bullpen with separate stalls. The furniture differed in elegance and comfort, seemingly depending upon the occupant’s assignment.

Investigative reporters got plank seat chairs and large ashtrays; feature writers had upholstered, cushioned seats – no ashtrays.

In addition to the cadre of males milling about the newsroom, there were several women. Not many, this being in the early 1970s.

Tough-looking broads with bright red go-to-Hell lipstick, and cigarettes perpetually dangling from the corners of their mouths, and a take-no-shit look on their faces.

You could practically hear the punctuation in the way they spoke: “Listen-up, comma, buster.” These reporters were not going to be ignored.

Stereotypic, but true. It was like a scene ripped from the sprockets of Lewis Milestone’s “The Front Page.”