Right around the time that the lamp factory guy couldn’t make his payroll, the job I dreamed about, (not my dream job), was about to fall into my unemployed lap; reporting for the Evening Independent, the afternoon edition of The St. Petersburg Times. It was dreamy because I didn’t have to wear orange polyester and I wasn’t chained to a desk. It didn’t have the asthma inducing dust-o-phere of the lamp factory and the hours worked well with our transportation; the sharing of the 1965 Ford Falcon.
If we take a closer look at the word “reporter,” it might help to highlight my expectations for this job:
Reporter: a person who reports, especially one employed to gather news for a newspaper, news agency, or broadcasting organization. (Dictionary.com).
I had to learn several lessons, outlined here with a helpful quiz at the end of the article for those that want to gauge their learning.
Newspaper Reporting 101
- Trust nobody. Even your parents, who have paid for your schooling.
- Your parents, who have paid for your schooling, will not be impressed by your $25 per story correspondent career choice.
- Lock your computer. It might take a half hour to sign in and out of your 1983 mainframe terminal, but do it every time. Refer to rule #1.
- “I covered for you” means “I submitted your facts under my own byline.”
- “I’ll cover for you” means “I didn’t make it to the City Council meeting on time, so while you were there I sat in your car and smoked weed.”
- If a story breaks on your shift (11 a.m. deadline), a more substantial story will be written on the next shift (11 p.m deadline) by somebody who is not you. Pass Go. Do not collect $25.
- Factoid: Twenty-five dollars is seventeen-fifty after taxes.
- The evening edition of the paper is the rival of the morning edition. Despite what you may have heard, you are not on a team. There is no N E W S in TEAM.
I fell into this job when my landlord revealed that he was a sports writer for the Evening Independent. I revealed that I was taking a Gregg Stenography class because I wanted to be a newspaper writer. I didn’t fancy myself interviewing the 85 year old mayor with threats to publish fake facts if he didn’t pony up some worthy interview substance. (That would come later).
I failed the Steno class, but I learned a valuable lesson there. It was held in the local high school where the walls were covered in graffiti (not the artsy kind) and the bathrooms, even during night school, were locked. You knew you didn’t want your kids to grow up here. It was my first inclination that St. Pete might not be our permanent home.
My $25 stringer job wasn’t cutting it financially, or in any other way for that matter, and so, with baby on the way, I went to work for the newspaper library four to midnight. It was still possible to share the Falcon (we would leave it running when we switched keys in the afternoon), and shared the quickest of kisses as we went our separate ways.