Budding Writer, 1979: Woodward-Bernstein stuff

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About this series: I revisited my journals from my first year as a freelance writer and found they told a story of their own. In this series I get the rare opportunity to give myself, and other writers, career advice with nearly 50 years of hindsight. Enjoy!

Journalists of my generation — even accidental ones like me — were inspired by the investigative reporting by the Washington Post that exposed the Watergate scandal that took down President Richard M. Nixon just five years earlier.

I happened to have been part of the skeleton crew staffing the campus newspaper The Dartmouth during summer term in August, 1974, when Nixon announced he was stepping down. We hastily put together a special edition, sort of an “Extra! Extra! Nixon resigns!” moment. Many of us were inspired to follow the paths of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, whose dogged research and sourcing broke and developed the Watergate story.

Unfortunately, few reporters and editors get their Watergate moment. An entire generation of journalists who wanted to bring down presidents were more interested in the details of a scandal than in the facts of a story.

I was one of them, as this journal entry from 1979 shows. I was diving into the supporting documents about a local nonprofit that lost its funding from village officials. However, as my journal does not contain background of the reporting itself, I will hold off until I’ve been able to track down the details so I can share them accurately.

News is the first draft of history. Reading a journal, day by day, is much like following a story, news cycle by news cycle. But now, nearly 50 years later, it is history and affects people’s lives and reputations. I will share it when I have more details.

Meanwhile, the saga of my first year as a freelance writer and novice journalist continues:

…But someday I simply MUST get free — just to do little errands like food shopping and buying new tires for my car — not to mention more important things like job interviews (Alumni Mag, Alice Peck Day, maybe TimeShare) and finding a place to live.

Work today was a bit of a grind, but interesting. We finally got to a file where [the original director] wrote to the board that they had massively [messed] up … Nice, juicy, Woodward-Bernstein stuff! This could be a good story!

Tonight not much except I wrote my stories on Trustees, Selex, and Parish Players … Today I received my ding letter from the Shmen Office — just as well, I suppose, as I’m working like mad as it is. I’m considering relocating to the Thetford area, or Fairlee — closer to regular work.

Journal, Volume II
12 May 1979

In other words, on my Saturday off from the paper I was too busy freelancing articles (again for the paper) to attend to personal matters. This is another reason why it’s a bad idea to freelance and work on the clock for the same outlet.

The rejection letter from the Freshmen office was a formality; I already knew about that. Packing up and moving out from my friends in college-owned housing, though — that was a tough call.

It was about to get tougher.

A watchful robin guards outside my office door in North Hero, Vermont, on May 10, 2023. The nest is in a rafter of the portico, about 10 feet from where I was sitting. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

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