Saturday, November 3, 2012

No. 579 – Learning to Fly

Performer: Pink Floyd
Songwriters: David Gilmour, Anthony Moore, Bob Ezrin, Jon Carin
Original Release: A Momentary Lapse of Reason
Year: 1987
Definitive Version: Tongue, Tied, Twisted, 1988

I’ve called 1988 the Summer of Love; it also was the Summer of Pink Floyd. I would bet that a large majority of Pink Floyd songs from here on on this list relates to that time, which, of course, was the time of my first real job.

As I mentioned, Harbor Country News operated out of the News-Dispatch building in Michigan City. I was hired as Associate Editor. In publishing, that title typically means a low-level reporting position, but don’t let the title fool you in this case. I definitely did a lot of reporting, but I also assembled the weekly newspaper from scratch, oversaw correspondents (freelancers), did all the design, chose the photos and signed off on the pages before sending them to press. In reality, I was the managing editor.

And because I was essentially the only full-time editorial employee—the editor, at the time, was also the regional editor of the News-Dispatch and spent most of her workweek working on that paper—a 60-hour workweek was typical.

Not that I put more than 45 hours on my time sheet, mind you. We were paid by the hour—we even had a time-card check-in at the door from the parking lot—and there was overtime to be had. But the first time I submitted a 60-hour time sheet also was the last after it was strongly discouraged.

Well, there was no way I could get the paper out myself, doing reporting, all the layout and all the editing working 40 hours if the paper was any larger than 24 pages. And pretty much from March on, as Harbor Country activity swelled for the summer season, the paper was never less than 32 pages and usually more like 48. So, I worked a ton of unpaid overtime. It got so for every five hours of overtime I worked, I charged one hour.

And it’s not as though I was being paid a princely sum. I started at $280 per week—a shade under $15K per year. Overtime might have added another grand over the course of a year.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not complaining, and I didn’t complain then. When you’re starting out in any career—well, any normal career—low pay is just part of the deal. You pay your dues and work your way up. I paid mine in full. (Another part of the deal in newspapers is, to make more money, most of the time you have to be willing to move from a small paper to a larger paper. You have to be somewhat transient.)

Actually, I loved the job. I loved having control of a publication right out of Northwestern. I didn’t have enough cred to be elected to run anything in my magazine program, as I mentioned, but my first job out of the gate, I was in charge—and for the most part, unsupervised. Of course, that wasn’t always a good thing as I would learn. But if you’re going to be the boss, that means you have to be the boss, and all that that implies.

For example, if a correspondent balks at covering a particular village government, because the government is playing fast and loose with the rules of public disclosure to the point where a local newspaper sues for access—to pull a completely random scenario out of the hat—you take over the beat and put the said correspondent on something less stressful.

And if you have to work 60 hours and charge only, say, 44 on your time sheet, then that’s what you do.

I also loved having an office. At the News-Dispatch, the offices went to the publisher, the editor, the sales director, the circulation director, the head of the paste-up shop, the editorial-page editor and writer and me—a 23-year-old wet-behind-the-ears punk.

The office was for the Harbor Country News, of course, not just me, but it would be the last professional office I would have for 18 years. When I left for the Daily Herald, I went from having my own office to having my own desk drawer. A newspaper office was—and is—a big deal.

I got to be recognized around New Buffalo after a while, which I didn’t particularly care for. I wasn’t looking for attention, just trying to go quietly about my business, but in a small town, it comes with the territory—particularly in the realm of covering high-school sports.

All the athletes knew who I was—particularly the kids who played basketball at New Buffalo High School. This was because I inherited a “One Day in the Life of New Buffalo Basketball” story shortly upon my arrival and went behind the scenes with the team. The team’s best player, a kid by the name of Mike Nowak, afterward always greeted me on the street by my surname with Mr. in front of it.

Three things mark your arrival into adulthood: The first time you see that the Playboy centerfold is your age and realize in theory that you could date her; the first time you discover that major league all-stars are your age; and the first time you’re called Mr. by someone younger than you are. Actually, being called Mr. was kind of cool—a show of respect.

All told, it was an incredible first job. I learned a lot about newspapers and, given my lack of experience, what NOT to do, unfortunately, more than what to do. It was quite an auspicious start to my journalism career.

No comments:

Post a Comment