Let me express my own everlasting gratitude for Glenn Thompson and his eye for talent, in my case after my letter to the editor and then his offer of an internship, later followed by a full summer. In a seemingly casual interview, he urged me to keep a personal journal, which I actually have. And then came the job offer. Without him (and so many others), my life would have taken a different direction. Gee, indirectly he even led to my first lover. (Look for Mitch in Daffodil Uprising, who’d been a copy boy I met thanks to Glenn’s support. Mitch was the catalyst to the crucial introduction. That dimension, in itself, could be a novel.)
Glenn was the editor-in-chief of the morning newspaper in Dayton, Ohio, and in his own way, a visionary. Behind the scenes, he even brought together the first university I attended, Wright State. And also, through him, I became a professional journalist, even while still in college. Another long story.
And he asked questions no one had prodded me with before. How would I change the world? What issues could I raise and address? At first, I was speechless. We were so green, and within a year, everything would look different. The biggest item on the agenda was the Establishment, not even its war in ‘Nam. Civil rights issues were a distant second.
The next summer I was a hundred miles up the road from Woodstock, working for a publisher who totally ignored me and editors who kept their heads down. But a new direction was taking shape for me.
Alas, as I’m also seeing, mine are steps youth today cannot follow. The pathways simply no longer exist, to the larger society’s impoverishment.
As I describe in my novel Hometown News, American journalism has long been based on a precarious business model. News itself is a byproduct of trying to attract customers for advertisers, and many publishers considered news gathering mostly as a costly nuisance. Successful newspapers were defined mostly by their obscene profits, and the pay levels for reporters and editors were often at the bottom of pay scales for professionals. As a priest reminded me before my first marriage, we might as well have been bound by vows of poverty. Oh, yes, and some of the highest quality papers – the kind I aspired to – were fighting for their very survival. We can now add to the toll of the role of the Internet.
So it’s all in flux now.
Still, newspapers show up in the majority of my novels, though in Nearly Canaan the field turned from journalism into non-profit organizations where the long, odd hours, public service, and stress nevertheless remained.
As I look back on my own years of being on the management track in a shrinking business, I see how I started out a hot-shot who thought the New York Herald Tribune in its last years was the best newspaper ever – led by an editor who later admitted in a letter to me he seemed to have become a specialist in trying to recover dying papers. Even then, I would have loved to have worked for him.
Despite my own honors, I had some crucial near misses. For one, I wound up in the final 24 for a dozen summer internships at the Washington Post but failed to make the final cut. The next summer, the Wall Street Journal was laying off staff rather than hiring, so their interest evaporated. Ten years later, something similar happened with timing for a high-level spot at the Detroit Free Press. And so my career veered away from the big cities where I had dreamed of living and from the big time, maybe for the best for me personally and ultimately professionally.
Somehow, this also has me thinking back to the lost hippie wannabes at the corner of Third and Main in Dayton during the summer of ’68. Theirs was a story I had hoped to write, but I couldn’t ask the right questions, I was too green myself. But, more honestly, maybe I just wasn’t cold-hearted enough to cut through to the real hurt and relate it without concern for the consequences.