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 have always had to separate fact from fiction, rumor from truth, and gossip from real news. It’s nothing new; it’s just that today we have to do it much faster. “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it,” as Jonathan Swift wrote in 1710.
So when a source bumped into me at a concert and shared a tidbit about my employer and a former employee, what was I to do? The names here are redacted to protect the innocent, although most of the parties are no longer living.
Tonight I saw [source] at the Barbershop concert. He alluded to some hanky-panky between [employer] and [employee] that I had only suspected. I’ll get details later — for my own prurient interests, insight into my employer, understanding of [employee], and of course, character material.Journal, Volume III
13 October 1979
Office flirtations, romances, and unwanted advances are still a problem, almost a half-century later. Today, though, most are against employment law. In the 1970s, sexual harassment was only emerging as a workplace problem. Could I, as the managing editor, have done anything? Probably not, unless the woman had asked me for help. She didn’t.
The source who cornered me was not always reliable and probably had something against the newspaper because of recent coverage. I had my doubts about his motivations.
Still, it was enough to raise questions in my mind. And a couple of nights later, when we finally put the paper to bed at 3 a.m., I was more on the alert: “… for the previous 1/2 hour [he] had been talking with [a female employee] in the darkened office. I suspected hanky-panky. That much is unclear.”
In retrospect, I could have knocked on the door to tell the boss I was checking out for the night. I didn’t. I wasn’t sure what, if anything, to do. Perhaps I was overreacting based on the gossip.
What’s more, I had spent the past five years in the social pressure cooker of a coeducational fraternity, where “hanky-panky” caused melodrama and couples changed partners more often than at a square dance. I wanted no part of another Peyton Place, other than to fuel my fiction.
So instead I made some notes about how I had “a strong urge to record the 1970s in the Tau Tales Prelude, Overture, and Crisis Center — but I desparately need time and background.”
The House had plenty of drama to turn into fiction — and another upheaval was happening even as I wrote that entry. By then I’d had enough. I never wrote that series of stories, and I will take them to the grave.
Spelling counts! Howard, the word is desperately. They still haven’t invented spell-checkers for cartridge pens.