I was called about an interview from the news editor at The Shelbyville News on Tuesday, less than twenty-four hours after I sent off my resume. I had only been out of college for less than a year and had only found myself unemployed for less than two days. He asked if I could come in Wednesday and bring relevant clips with me. I had planned a mid-week trip to see Brian but decided it would be in my best interest to stay home and brainstorm how to manipulate my pseudo-editing background to reflect someone who was qualified to write for a newspaper.
At Ball State I took an introductory journalism course. It was part of a Public Relations minor that I pursued for about a semester and a half. The professor was a short, white-haired man who was an advisor for the campus newspaper. A cool guy. I liked the class a lot. After a free thinking writing assignment on our observations on the media’s influence in our everyday life, my paper was returned with a check mark and the words “Katie. You are a powerful writer. You need to be published.”
Hmmmm. I wondered if I still had that paper anywhere in my files? Maybe I could show it to the news editor tomorrow. Maybe he knew my professor’s name from being in the news industry? It was probably a better indicator that I could make it as a journalist than the picture of me in the pharamceutical journal with the word “editor” next to it.
The editor Tom walked to the front desk to greet me. He was at least six inches shorter than me. Balding. Wearing jeans and a striped polo shirt. I would discover during the interview that his laugh was a dead ringer for Crusty the Clown. He had a smoker’s cough too. The interview had not even begun and I felt strangely less intimidated.
Tom’s office was a small, windowless room that two open doors on either side of it. Out one door was a small assembly of reporter’s desk. The other door led to the printing presses and the smell of ink was strong. During the course of the interview, several people used Tom’s office as a shortcut to get from the front of the building to the presses. They waved and bid him “good morning” and then we resumed our conversation. A calendar with a picture of a very old terrier-type dog hung behind his wall. Trying to earn some points, I inquired about the adorable “puppy.” Tom’s face lit up and he discussed at length his dog Barney. I learned that Tom did not have a family and had moved every few years or so depending where he found the best job. Barney was his “person.”
“I took some journalism classes in college and learned the mechanics of news writing.”
He thought about my answer.
“Let me tell you what. You seem like a bright young woman with a lot of potential. Here’s my advice to you. Read newspapers. Lots of them. Every day. Find the writers and stories that you like. Cut them out. Highlight the leads and the way the writers state the facts and hook the reader. Then copy it. Well. Don’t copy it exactly, per se. But copy the sentence structure. The story organization. The flow of the information. Take your own facts and input them. That is the fastest, best way to learn this trade.”
I shook my head.
“And always, always, always tell the truth. You are going to find that the best stories are the ones that are ready-made to write.”
I shook my head again. Was I being offered the job? Or was this just a little friendly advice for my future endeavors?
“Thank you. Thank you very much. I will keep that in mind Tom.”
He slapped the desk with both his hands.
“You’re very welcome. It was lovely to meet you Ms. Powalski. I have been here since 4 a.m. so if you don’t mind, I’ll wait to talk to the publisher about giving you this job until tomorrow. Can I call you then?”
Every muscle in my face was trying to smile and I resisted. When an unrestrained smile happens, it’s like an explosion of dimples, gums and teeth long ago corrected by orthodontics. I managed to keep a poker face.
“Yes. Give me a call then.”
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