Friday, June 10, 2011

a nose for news awakens a life-long passion

a personal essay

     The summer of my twelfth year I developed the annoying habit of bugging my mother for no reason whatsoever. I learned later on that I was going through a phase like many other girls my age slipping into adolescence. Mom came up with an idea hoping to get me out of her hair. It took off like a rocket in my mind.

     “Why don’t you publish your very own newspaper?” she queried me. She knew that I loved to write and that I couldn’t wait for high school when I could join the school paper as a reporter.

     My idea of a perfect ninth grade would be to get selected for the newspaper team. I idolized those older kids confidently carrying their reporter’s pads with them and interviewing teachers, football stars and even the principal in his office. I had a couple years to wait so in the meantime my own newspaper might be a way for me to learn reporting.

      “You could gather up news around the neighborhood and practice your writing skills. Besides the older folks would love to talk with you. That will keep you busy for the rest of the summer.”

      A neighborhood newspaper appealed to me and I began work laying out a plan while sitting on the porch. My mind visualized all the different neighbors that lived on Lincoln Street, and I put their names down in a column in my notebook.  I would go visit them on a regular basis, collect information about their activities and interview them. Most of the neighbors had lots of friends and relatives coming and going all the time.

       I recruited my younger sister-or should I say coerced her, to help me sell copies for one or two cents each. When I added up how much I would make a week, I quickly drew the conclusion that twelve copies at two cents each wouldn’t be very much money in my pocket! Right then and there the glamour of the newspaper industry tarnished in my mind.

     Our Lincoln Street neighborhood was made up of older retired people and for most of the time that my family lived there my sister and me were the only kids on the block.  My mother regularly visited one set or the other, and I had tagged along enough all my life to know each person myself-or so I thought, as my chest inflated with my new important title, reporter for the brand new “Lincoln Street Gazette.”

     I thought about my newspaper plan for several days, and then I went into action dressing properly in my plaid skirt, white blouse and saddle shoes. Before I left the house Mom reminded me to be careful about what I was going put in print because some information might be private, and that someone might not want the rest of the neighbors to know it. She told me to make sure to copy down a quote exactly as it was said, and not to be afraid to ask someone to repeat.

      “Like nothing too personal- or nothing that would be embarrassing. You know if Mrs. ‘So and so’ gets sick one day with a headache she might not want everybody in the neighborhood to know right then,” said mom struggling to come up with a good example.

      Gathering the news became much more fun than I had ever anticipated, and I filled up my notebook easily just like Jimmy Olson on the Superman series. Once I had the news gathered, I wrote it up copying the style of Newsday and  The New York Times. I studied how the reporters wrote their leads to open their stories, and tried to be clever with my own. I worked hard not putting my own slant on the news and I thought that I kept straight to the facts. Mom was my editor-in –chief, and she came out of the kitchen to check everything one last time before the paper went to press.

   The hardest part was getting out the typewriter, lining up the carbon paper and hunting and pecking slowly on the keyboard. I would go along fine for a sentence or two, and then I would hit the wrong key. Out would fling the paper, and I would start again usually with a few utterances out of the corner of my mouth. Sometimes I wouldn’t hit the keys hard enough and upon inspecting the third carbon copy, it couldn’t be read. Back to step one over and over until publishing the paper would become a real chore. Not a single friend of mine visited when I was working for fear of being trapped into typing for me.

    Yet when I went around to the neighbors delivering the paper, it was well worth it to see the smiles on my customers’ faces. I did end up giving away copies away for free as it seemed like the right thing to do.

     Believe it or not, “The Lincoln Street Gazette” kept in print sporadically for several years after I joined the high school paper. Every summer I had a stint doing paste up work-before computer graphic layout took over, for a travel trailer magazine published in our town.

 Long after I left home to go off to college those neighbors still would tell my parents how much the newspaper meant to them. Once in awhile I go up into the attic and look at copies of that paper, and I realize that it was in my blood to track down a story from a young age.