Budding Writer, 1979: Puff and fluff

Reading Time: 2 minutes

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!

Any local news editor — which is what I had become in a matter of weeks — understands the constant battle of balancing the news readers and advertisers expect with the news that you know or think is important. I was only beginning to learn this as I wrote this journal entry in 1979:

Another rainy day; another miserable day at work. Puff and fluff squeezed out my chances at producing hard news; my Low-Pritchard story for this week is down the tubes, although I’ll get an early start on it on Tuesday. I found out today that [another staffer] is leaving; that means we’re really going to be short-staffed come June. Frankly, I fear for the paper. So does [a departing editor] — for the next couple months. She thinks we’ll get things straightened out by then.

Getting back here, I was ready to dive into work on those overdue stories. Instead I ate a meager dinner, straightened up, and went to work on an application to City Choice. Tomorrow morning I’ll finish off the newspaper work, so tomorrow afternoon and evening I can start in on serious writing.

Journal, Volume II
25 May 1979

This short entry is ripe with hidden meanings. First, “puff and fluff” are the heart and soul of community news. The people features — promotions, graduations, awards, events — are squeezed off today’s news pages. Nowadays they’re relegated to hyperlocal websites like Patch, or to Facebook groups and other social media.

The real news of the day on Friday, May 25, 1979, was the crash of American Airlines Flight 191 in Chicago at the start of Memorial Day weekend. It probably didn’t affect anyone in the Upper Connecticut River Valley. It seems to have made no impression on me.

But a real journalist would have been looking for a local angle to this national story. Was anyone from our area aboard? Did anyone local know anyone affected? Did we know any American Airlines pilots? And so on.

Another staffer was leaving. Was this the natural state of things, or was something wrong? A staff of six that lost three people was literally at half-staff for Memorial Day. That made me all that more valuable to the team, but that value came with commensurate pressure.

Was I planning to make use of my long holiday weekend to do any of the deadline work? No. Instead I wrote an job application letter. I have no idea what City Choice is or was. It was probably another help-wanted ad in Robert’s Editor & Publisher, which I was reading each week.

Consider the irony — or the nerve — of reading your employer’s magazine to find another job. But he seemed to understand.

I was looking forward to working on my news writing Tuesday because I could use the long weekend for creative work. How did that work out? Tune in tomorrow.

A purple clamatis climbs a trellis in Southbury, Connecticut, May 25, 2023. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.