Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The newspaper route, part 2: The vast newsroom

In the fall of 1989, I was sophomore at Marquette, assistant sports editor at the Marquette Tribune, and not yet 19 years old. The Tribune was located in the basement of Johnston Hall in a windowless with a dozen or so old steel desks and eight computers (if we needed more, the College of Journalism's editing lab was down the hall in an even more claustrophobic room). A year in the basement had been my newspaper experience by that fall.

I don't remember how I found out that the Milwaukee Journal sports department was hiring part-time reporters and clerks, but however I did, I called and managed to score an interview with the sports editor. I put on a tie and cut a class to walk to the newspaper offices, less than a mile from my dorm.

There's no real happy ending here -- I wasn't hired. I lacked the transportation for the open part-time reporter's job, and probably wasn't quite as experienced at the time as some others to get the clerk job (the hours were horrendous for the position; the Journal was an afternoon paper, and I wondered if I cringed at the thought of 4 a.m. shifts to format boxscores). Though I was ambitious, I hadn't b been on too many job interviews before, and when it's selling myself, I always am nervous, more so when I was 18.

Nevertheless, the interview was an experience -- my first time inside a real newsroom, even for just a half-hour. I've been in other newsrooms since, but none quite as impressively large as the Journal's. If you've ever seen movies or TV shows that show giant newsrooms, filled with dozens of cluttered desks, phones ringing, and a little bit of bustle, that's what I saw that day. I was thrilled at the knowledge that this was going to be my career someday -- perhaps someday very soon. I guess I felt similar to a aspiring pilot sitting in a cockpit for the first time or a med student visiting an ER (and not as a patient).

Like I said, I didn't get the job that day. A year later, the Milwaukee Sentinel hired me as a sports clerk. A year and a half after that, at age 21, I was promoted to a part-time copy editor/reporter. I learned so much in those first few years (more than I ever learned in J-school). The career I had sought had arrived.

That said, the Sentinel's newsroom, all on one floor but divided by the elevator shaft, the centrally placed photo department, and the L-shaped design of the building itself, wasn't quite as inspiring for my novice self. I couldn't look 50 yards across the newsroom to the offices in the back like I did that day I walked off the Journal elevator on the fourth floor in 1989. My first job at a daily newspaper did not result from that day, but the crazy path into journalism definitely revved up.

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