Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My Long Spotty Career In Journalism

My former high school classmate brings up the issue recently of my aspiration to be a journalist, a desire of mine that has been going on since I was a mere sixteen years old. So I am going to pelt you with this sometimes funny, sometimes tragic story of my career in journalism.

I began my career at The East Junior High School newspaper in Colorado Springs. I was a reporter on the staff. Mrs. Peak ran our newspaper staff. Mrs. Peak and I often found ourselves in a tangle of conflict, as I often was with authority figures then- and even now I suppose. Mrs. Peak had  a pencil in her beehive hairdo. I don't recall much about what I wrote to be honest. I passed her English class.

In high school, I applied for a got a position as a stringer for the local daily newspaper. It was a libertarian newspaper, the now defunct Colorado Springs Sun. I didn't fully realize the impact of this unwitting political move on my part, they just said they would pay me to write and that was good enough for me. My first article was about my Jewish friends who had taken a trip to Israel. It was my first paid writing assignment. I was the youngest reporter in their newsroom at the age of nineteen as an intern. A colleague sent me an illegal drink at a bar once. I think I drank it. It's long past the statute of limitations to convict me on my underage drinking, don't even try.

In college I worked on The University of Puget Sound newspaper staff. We had lightboards back then. This means we had exacto knives and paste too. We would stay up all night pasting the newpaper together and crawl home at sunrise with letters affixed to our clothing. I remember many happy nights filled with much laughter. Then we sould finish  our newaper by  pasting it  down and barely in enough time for publication.

After college I accepted a part-time paid reporter job in a Washington state logging town. I wrote news stories, took police reports and photos but there was a crack in my Honda's manifold. This was distressing to me as one cannot repair a cracked manifold. So I did what any hack writer does, I bought a ton of spark plugs and kept swapping them for bad ones when the leaking oil fouled out my spark plugs. A girl has to get to her writing assignment. I did so until the paper lost a one page advertiser and could not pay me my minimum wage salary. No more meetings with angry loggers who wanted to kill spotted owls for me. I was out.

I took other jobs along the way mainly because I was hungry and refused to move to Kansas, as do most beginning reporters. I decided I was a woman of the west coast, or "a woman on the edge" as my oldest brother used to tell me. In each of these jobs I continued to be a reporter rather than a special education teacher, state worker, federal worker, and sometimes moderately paid slave. This did not earn me many friends as you can imagine. Can you say misappropriation of funds? Corruption? Bizarre policies? I knew you could. Too bad I am so inquisitive.

I worked on two Tacoma weeklies. One is defunct and that editor gave me trememdous leeway. The most fun I ever had was crashing the religious group The Promise Keepers meeting in The Tacoma Dome. Now a group of men cannot exclude a woman from attending an event on public property. They tried and I wrote a scathing 2500 word article about their treatment of me and my transgender friend who appeared way more terrified than me that night. She had reason to be scared, and perhaps I should have been as well, but I was just taking notes.

I wrote for the Puyallup Tribal newspaper and for some reason got paid double the rate per word of the weekly I was also writing for at the same time. Both newspapers were owned by the same publisher. I had to write under a pen name at the tribal newspaper. Just read my name at the end of this article and you will understand. I covered my first murder trial. It was a strange experience. I took a lot of notes and even did some caricature sketches of the judge, lawyers, defendants and such in my reporter's notebook.

Here I am blogging. I am afforded the luxury to write in an odd fashion. I have multiple sclerosis and get SSDI money from the federal government. I also get some medical assistance. If not for these two things, I would be slogging away full time at a job unrelated to writing because I refuse to move to Kansas and let's face it, not even the people in Kansas have writing jobs anymore. Writers are just plain unemployed or employed in other fields or in these times, not employed at all. So MS has afforded me the chance to write again? A potentially life-threatening condition enables me to write and nap as needed? Is that a small price to pay or one at rather high cost? -Alison Whiteman

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