Recently graduated with a master’s degree in philosophy from an Ohio college, I went out looking for a job. Philosophers were then not much in demand (although I know now that philosophy majors in college have one of the best job placement rates of any degree, probably because they usually can think and also it is a generalist degree leading to many vocations). The publisher of a local newspaper loved the college and wanted to see if I could survive an editorial desk full of smoke, swearing, chewing out reporters, and working under the stress of daily deadlines.
I did not choose to be an editor and reporter. It chose me. I needed to pay the rent. I also kept in mind what the philosopher Kierkegaard once wrote. He said that if his daughter became a prostitute, he would forgive her; but if she became a journalist, he would give her up as lost.
Let me be clear. While I did a lot of writing, I had no training in journalism. So when they threw me (or did they bolt me to my chair?), I was full of fear and trembling (a few more favorite words of Kierkegaard). I don’t know how I survived the first week–full of cigar smoke, dirty jokes, cursing, and pressing deadlines. But I did. And to tell you the truth, I miss those days. We were a real team of misfits covering the news of a small city with all that implies from stories about missing dogs to murders. I and another reporter covered a tornado which demolished a small town. I can still hear a baby cry and see the pages of a manuscript floating in the air.
There were two major newspapers in the county and two more in the city of Cleveland which competed for readers in the county in which I worked. It was an exciting time to be working for a newspaper and though I went on to more graduate work I am still thankful that I was taught not to overuse adjectives and to say what I intended to say as clearly as I could, so unlike academia.
The days when I could run out to the back shop with a late story are gone, as are the editorial desks placed next to one another where editors could scream at each other and reporters. I have only twice visited a modern newsroom and it felt more like a funeral home to me–reporters in cubicles, the sound of computer keys in the background, people talking in whispers, and no cigar or cigarette smoke hanging in the air.
I suspect one day there will come a time when newsprint will be gone, stories showing up only on cell phones or laptops, and an area will be fortunate to have one newspaper left. Quite frankly, I don’t look forward to such times.
So my colleagues and journalistic warriors–Ted and Bill, Leo and Jim, Mike and Phyllis–may the printer ink stay on your hands and the smoke in your eyes until we meet again. Write on, write on.