Budding Writer, 1979: Not all was rosy

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Roses bloom at a garden center in Bethel, Connecticut, May 16, 2023. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Learning a new job — the company routine, the work schedule, the expectations — always has its challenges. This journal entry from my first days on a weekly newspaper shows I was struggling to master them:

It was a mostly pleasant day, both in terms of weather and in accomplishment.

Point one: Robert liked my “Ubu” review. This is important, as I hope to sell him on improving the arts section later this week. But, on the other hand, he did remind me to keep it to 12 hours a week on the time cards, have a few short words about $, especially for reviews, and express disappointment that I hadn’t done any headlines. So not all was rosy.

As a matter of fact, my demonstrated ability with heads — even slug heads — leaves much to be desired. But I did feel good after putting in a full day’s work — especially as I’m also getting 2 photos in this week! I’m pleased.

Journal, Volume II
7 May 1979

What was really happening here?

I was learning how to work with my first manager, and the lesson wasn’t sinking in. Robert was not only the owner of the company, he was the newspaper’s editor and publisher. That meant he had full say about its content for his audience, and about how to pay for it.

This new kid on the block really wanted to be an arts page editor, but what Robert needed was a managing editor. So he started by complimenting the arts writer (me) before he criticized the news section editor (also me).

In retrospect, I find it hard to believe that Robert liked the review of “King Ubu.” The play was, at the very least, not up to contemporary tastes. The only readers in his circulation area who might have been interested would be a few Dartmouth professors who commuted from Thetford. To think that any other small-town rural readers would want to see a student production of an 80-year-old Absurdist play was, well, absurd.

But running over budgeted hours, asking him to pay for reviews that were not assigned, and writing no headlines, even bad ones — that was a problem.

I still had much to learn.