I don’t recall the date, but it was exactly this time of year in 1990 – late July, during political season in a major statewide election year – that my full-time career in media began. It was 28 years ago almost to the day that I began my first-ever full-time job as a staff writer for the Journal Inquirer, which at the time was, I believe, the 5th-largest daily newspaper in Connecticut as well as the largest afternoon daily newspaper. I had previously worked for two months as a “stringer” for the Hartford Courant out of its Enfield bureau, but this was what I had been hoping for when I graduated from the University of Connecticut two months earlier with a degree in English – a full-time job as a news reporter. I was thrilled; a little scared as any 21-year-old might be, but without question ready to get going.
A few things stand out from Day 1; oddly enough, I didn’t do any writing that day. I more watched and learned the basics and logistics. Like how to use the “computer terminals” we all shared and, frankly (and anyone who was in the newsroom with me in that era can surely agree) looked like they were at least a decade past their prime. Like the schedule of morning deadlines and the groupings of reporters (we did our most intensive deadline-based work between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. in this pre-Internet era). Like where the bathrooms and the snack machines were, and what time the morning coffee truck came. Not to mention meeting our team of 25+ news reporters and 10 or so editors, all of whom were polite but had little time to get to know me in those first few hectic hours of my first day. So I watched, I observed, I read that day’s newspaper from cover to cover at least a few times, and I waited.
Oh, also? I met my wife that day; she was the reporter/editor assigned to show me around and, I think, make sure I didn’t break anything. She continues in that role today 28 years later, but that’s a story for another time 😊
It was later that night I was given my first assignment – to accompany a reporter to a local Town Council meeting (Vernon, I think) and assist her in covering the news that came out of it. I would report on…whatever it was I was covering…and file my first-ever story the next morning. Then we journeyed across town to cover a local nominating convention for a State Representative – interestingly enough, that State Rep. was none other than Connecticut’s current Congressman in the 2nd District, Joe Courtney. I met the then-State Rep., enjoyed his very pleasant and easy-to-quote demeanor, and headed home with my head spinning around 9 p.m., my brand new reporter’s notebook filled with my first day of notes and quotes and sitting next to me sitting on the passenger seat of my old Oldsmobile Cutlass. I was off and running.
The next morning I filed those stories, then the next day a couple more, and a pattern was born that is familiar to surely any daily journalist who ever covered a beat. I remember a particularly colorful exchange with a local official in that first week, who for some reason wasn’t willing to give me public information which I requested. I remember calmly telling him I was entitled to this information and, if he wasn’t going to cooperate, I would have to say so in my story. Nonetheless he agreed, and I scored my first (albeit very minor) victory for the public’s right to know.
Over time I would earn my first full-time beat (a combination of the town of Somers and the Enfield Board of Education, and a couple years later I shifted to the town of Windsor) and go through enough of those reporter’s notebooks to fill the trunk of my old clunker of a car. I covered the good and the bad, wrote features and in-depth reports, occasionally tussled with headstrong local officials and made some solid relationships with the people I covered. In the newsroom I made friendships that have lasted to this very day, friendships rooted initially in our common professional roles but which would soon grow deeper and more meaningful. Oh, and did I mention I met my wife there? We were married June 6, 1992 and just celebrated our 26th anniversary last month. I spent 6 ½ years at that newspaper before leaving for a career in public relations at the end of 1996, and while I can’t say I loved every moment (who can?), I can say without question that that crusty, dusty old newsroom played a huge role in shaping who I was and who I would become.
So many of us who worked there are no longer journalists today, though a few still are. Others among us are now teachers, lawyers, social workers, technical writers and, yes, a few of us remain on “the dark side” in the world of public relations. My daily grind no longer features a set-in-stone deadline of 9:15 a.m., but deadlines sure do still exist. I still rush to get things done, still write as much as I ever have, still cram research and fact-checking and tracking people down quickly into my workaday routine. I have spent 28 years working on one side of the media or another, and I cannot possibly imagine having spent my career doing anything else.
And it all started pretty much 28 years ago today, on that hot July day where everything seemed to be in front of me. And the good news? It still is.