Budding Writer, 1979: Things are looking up

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A brief snow flurry blurs the sunset the New York side of Lake Champlain on March 7, 2019. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

My journal entries from 44 years ago show the start of my transition from freelance writer to local journalist by breaking into a local weekly.

Writers often do the same thing today, although print journalism has taken a big hit on all levels in the last two decades. In those days, most towns had a local newspaper. You have to feed these monsters new content every day or every week. Writers who could take regular assignments could make a living at it.

Local media are still an entry point for writers, but those media are more likely to be online than in print. The profit margins for both are low, so often the hyper-local news site for a town is run by a solo entrepreneur. Charles Foster Kane said “I think it would be fun to run a newspaper,” but he wouldn’t make his fortune on one today.

As spring approached and my car thawed out after the long winter, I was looking for employment. On the eve of my first news assignment, I spotted a campus job opening “for which I will probably apply — after my newspaper debut tomorrow. Things are looking up …” (Journal, 5 March 1979).

Then, the next day:

The weather and my own foolishness made me late for my 9:00 appointment today, but I did get to cover the Corinth, Vt. town meeting. The meeting itself was long and tiring, but friendly and interesting. Writing it up was fun, and it felt good to be part of the working team of the Journal-Opinion.

The people there are all quite pleasant and willing to help. In fact, when I made my way to the Paradise Cafe today for lunch, the assistant editor recognized me and called out my name while I just stood there like a dummy. I think I’ll enjoy working there — and I think I may be working there quite a bit, as Tom (the editor) liked my work and will probably push for me with the publisher …

Howard W. Fielding
Journal, Volume II
6 March 1979

First lesson for people trying to break into any job: Don’t be late for your first appointment. Even today, with better roads and higher speed limits, the drive from Etna, New Hampshire, where I lived, to Corinth, Vermont, north and west of Bradford, is about an hour. Learn from my foolishness and factor in travel time.

Fortunately, Town Meeting Day, the first Tuesday in March, is a state holiday in Vermont. This long midwinter social and political event has a set start time of 10 a.m. The entire town turns out to elect officers, hear reports, approve budget expenses line by line, set a tax rate, raise concerns to town officials, and just generally gossip. I was late to meet with my editors but missed only the preliminaries of Town Meeting.

The population of Corinth was 904 in 1980, according to the Vermont Historical Society. Several hundred packed into the meeting hall, made their speeches, and took their votes. Then they sat down to lunch together and continued into the afternoon. New England traditions die hard; this year the town historical society will serve lunch at tomorrow’s event.

Second lesson to the newly employed: Learn people’s names. Fast. This entry suggests the only person whose name I knew was Tom, the editor, and based on previous entries and here I probably didn’t know his last name. That’s unprofessional.

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