Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Scintilla#13, Day 1

Last year I participated in the first Scintilla Project, a couple of weeks of daily writing prompts that encourage you to tell your stories. And here we are again.

If you want to sign up for daily prompts in your inbox, go here. It's not too late to begin.

Every day you get two possible prompts; do one or both. Today's are:

1. Tell a story about a time you got drunk before you were legally able to do so.

2. Tell a story set at your first job.

Well, it's not like I don't have experience with getting drunk before I was of legal age. And perhaps another day I'll tell you about the very dark night we met a very black cow in the middle of a dirt road while we were heading out to 'the brush' for a party. But not today.


 Oh, I had the usual kinds of teenage jobs: babysitting mostly, and a summer or two as an A&W carhop; a  part-time campus thing in college where I threw greasy fried potatoes or rubbery scrambled eggs on plates in the cafeteria at the butt-crack of dawn, and a much better gig as the news director of our campus radio station, the first woman on the (paltry) paid staff.

My first post-college job was as a school teacher, and I have several stories from those years, although not necessarily that first year when I was barely three years older than some of the kids I was working with and still was startled every time someone called me "Mrs. Steele" since I was also a newly-wed.

But the summer before my college senior year I was a reporter for my hometown daily newspaper in Springfield, Mo., full-time and decently paid. In those days before the big media companies had bought up the medium and small market dailies, in those days before the Internet and cell phones and widespread use of computers, we had two daily papers: The Daily News in the morning and the Leader-Press in the afternoon, and a full contingent of editors, columnists, reporters, typesetters, and printers for both. (The papers were bought by Gannett in 1977 and were consolidated since 1987.)

My first morning as a reporter for The Leader-Press found me at a second-row desk with an IBM electric typewriter in the noisy open bull pen . The news desk editor and managing editor sat facing each other at a huge U-shaped table to one side of the room, with copy editors flanking them on the arms of the U, and the publisher's office was nearby with a big window and a door looking out onto the news room. The long back of the room, in a sectioned-off area, held rows of tall filing cabinets -- the 'morgue' -- which contained ongoing permanent files and reporters' notes and clippings about current or important stories, information about civic leaders that could be pulled instantly as background material in the event of their death,  and bound volumes of  newspapers in addition to files of the current year's copies.

It smelled of fresh ink and paper, and cigarette smoke and stale, thick, burnt coffee. There was a constant low thrum throughout the building from the hum of many electric typewriters, the linotype machines in the composing area, and from the giant presses churning out newspapers and advertising sections.

It was a bit overwhelming. And everyone seemed to be very busy. And I was the lowest of the low, a cub reporter, one of three college students hired that summer, and the first one on deck.

Later that week when the other students showed up, I was reassigned to the Daily News (morning paper) staff and honestly felt I'd found my tribe there: in that time of shirts and ties for men and dresses and pantyhose for women, these reporters were a little more casual, ties loosened and shirt sleeves rolled up, wandering into the newsroom around 2:30-3 in the afternoon to take stock of what had occurred during the day that would be tomorrow morning's news,  It was a congenial group, often going out for coffee together after the last version of the paper had been proofed and put to bed. Not many women, either: there was one on the night staff, also an intern, who had just graduated and was offered a permanent position after the summer, but the other women reporters worked during the day or as columnists. There was one outstandingly marvelous, bat-sh*t crazy female photographer with whom I got to travel several times in search of  'local color' photographs and photo essays ( I wrote the cutlines -- captions -- and got the ID if we were including people pictures.). Even today I recall with heart-stopping clarity the abrupt screeching as she stopped her car in the middle of a somewhat busy country road so she could take pictures of a big box turtle moseying across it.

But that first day, I was a little timid and quiet, taking it all in, rewriting little local briefs and a few straightforward obituaries sent over from area funeral homes, and  hearing the constant ding-ding-ding of the signal bells and non-stop clackety-clacking from the AP and UPI wire teletypes in a tiny nearby room  as they spit out alerts and story after story on the long, endless rolls of yellow paper in boxes which sat stacked underneath the machines. Reporters and editors stood intently over the teletypes much of that day, ripping and handing long strips off  to others to mark up, and nobody said much to me as they strode purposefully past my desk.

The date was June 6, 1968: Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated. I am embarrassed to say it was several hours before I knew that, and me in a newsroom! Clearly it was not a typical day for any newsroom, but it was a memorable first day on a new job for this writer.


1 comment:

mxtodis123 said...

A reporter. That's exciting. I'm going to check out the site. Maybe I can't do it everyday, but perhaps some will be okay. How are you doing?