Journeyman Journalist, 1979: Opportunity knocks (again)

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Sunset put on an ever-changing show on October 16, 2023, in North Hero, Vermont. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

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!

The morning after I stumbled home at 3:30 a.m. and lay awake wondering about office hanky-panky, I had an early morning wake up call from a complete stranger.

At 8:00 I awoke with the sun in my eyes and a ringing in my ears. A Douglas Garfield from the Littleton Courier was calling, wants to talk to me about editing the Hanover Gazette. My God! What to do? I agreed, then proceeded to tell Robert, when he had some spare time. He says he’d hate to lose me and went out of his way to praise my work this week, it seems unlikely he’d buy. So I’ll talk with them, then make a tough decision on what to do if I get an offer. …

Journal, Volume III
16 October 1979

The old saying that opportunity knocks but once — or some variation — is so ancient that it is probably untraceable. Shakespeare used the image, if not the words. The theme also appears in old French, Greek, and even Biblical references.

So I should have known better. Back in January I had failed to follow through on an ad seeking an editor for the Hanover Gazette, figuring I didn’t have the experience they were looking for.

Apparently I did have it six months later, though. In July, my publisher at the Journal Opinion talked to me about buying the Gazette and making me the editor. That implies, although it was never stated, that the Gazette was on the market. It’s also probably not a coincidence that I was in the running for a full-time job at the Hopkins Center publicity office at the time.

In October, opportunity gave up knocking and tried a cold call.

The Littleton Courier covered the towns around Littleton, N.H., at the northern reaches of Grafton County in the foothills of the White Mountains. Today it’s part of Salmon Press, a network of local weeklies that covers much of New Hampshire.

I knew this much: the Courier’s territory took overlapped with the Journal Opinion’s northern coverage area. The Hanover Gazette, which had tempted me before, would sit just to the south. From the publisher’s point of view, competition from both sides would cut into our advertising and readership.

So I was left with an ethical dilemma. I was being wooed by a rival that seemed prepared to catch my current employer in a pincer grip. Should I warn him? What should I do?

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