( Retrospective) 9 April 1979
We had a winter storm today! Just lovely, as today was also my first day covering a regular beat for the Journal-Opinion. In Fairlee, VT, 20 miles up a slick Rte. 5. Whoopee. But was fairly (uh) amusing. I got the chance to try out the homely Fairlee diner and to get to know the town clerk and selectmen, even if not much at all happened (the lead of my story was the administration of a Free Bed Fund — Jeez!).
Later, I continued up to Bradford, where I wrote out the story and talked with Pat Hammond, Tom and Robert. Surprise! Tom put me on Fairlee selectmen, Fairlee schools, Bradford Village and Bradford Town, and Oxbow School District meetings, for about a dozen meetings a month. Not bad for a rookie! I am, in short, pleased.
Even though I didn’t return home until about 2:00 AM and then only by way of Lebanon because I couldn’t get up King Hill, I made it out to be a good day. So what if $10 an article comes to about $2 an hour tonight? At least it’s a start.Journal, Volume II
9 April 1979
That journal entry was written by a 23-year-old cub reporter some 44 years ago. How old am I today? I’ll let you do the math; it’s not one of most writers’ strong points.
Back then I would have been expected to know my addition and subtraction in order to put the dates into context. We didn’t have calculators on our computers or tablets or phones. I carried a newfangled pocket calculator that added, subtracted, multiplied, divided, and found percentages. That’s about all I’ve ever needed to do as a reporter or editor ever since.
As an editor with um … 40-something years of experience, I can nitpick about all the things I got wrong in this entry: Journal Opinion should be italicized but not hyphenated, spell out Vermont, spell out Route, a.m. not AM, and so on. But I won’t.
Instead, I’ll advise beginning journalists not to knock their assignments, however insignificant they may seem. Four decades later, I don’t remember the specifics of the Free Bed Fund. In fact, I had to look up its meaning:
Free Bed Fund means any gift of money, stock, bonds, financial instruments or other property made by any donor for the purpose of establishing a fund to provide medical care to patients at the hospital.LawInsider.com
Granted, it wasn’t (or shouldn’t have been) front-page material. Today it’s the sort of thing most newspapers wouldn’t cover with a reporter. But the town forming (or approving) a fund to cover the medical costs of residents who can’t pay their hospital bills is nevertheless important news.
A good reporter would realize that this was the kind of “good news” that readers want to see. It’s heart-warming, and it’s “news you can use.” A better way to handle the story would have been after it was set up and someone had used it. Then a feature story could have led with that person’s story (even if anonymous) and shown how others might benefit.
Jeez! indeed. I had a lot to learn.
But I was off to a good start: Stopping at the diner and meeting the locals and the officials is not only polite, it makes things easier when you start covering a beat and asking questions.