Let's begin at the end. My career is in its 43rd year. I have been writing stories since it began back at the beginning, in 1976, the year I graduated from high school. My dream in high school was to be a journalist and to work for a magazine. I got lucky out of school, to say the least, and landed a part time sports writing job for a community newspaper. I quickly learned how to cover high school Friday night football games or Tuesday night boy's basketball contests.
I learned, slowly but surely, how to write basic newspaper stories. My editor was tough. He wove his dreaded red pen all over my precious typed copy, teaching me how to tell the story of a high scoring high school baseball game or explaining in some interesting way a 0-0 girls soccer match. It was all about making these rather normal games into something interesting for the readers, especially the families of the kids whose teams we followed each week.
The grind was fun - we covered a dozen high schools so there would be a dozen stories to write every Friday night - on deadline for the Monday edition - sometimes with no more info than what was gleamed from a phone call to the coach or team manager. Other times we had to go to one of the games, race back, write about it, and get on the phone to find out all the other results.
Three years into doing this - all the while attending a local college where I played soccer ( as a goalie) - I finally could kiss that red pen of my editor goodbye. My copy was perfect, as perfect as it needed to be to thrill my readers and the teams and the coaches and the players who all hung on every word.
Don't get me wrong, there was nothing special about these few hundred-word reports. It's just that they taught me the basics, like how to construct a sentence, or use a clause, and string together several paragraph to retell the action or explain something fairly simple unobserved by the reader in person.
Here's a idea of what I'm talking about.
"The Smithville High Tigers whipped their Jones High arch-rival’s last night, 13-3, scoring 11 runs in the top of the fifth inning to improve their central league leading record to 7-1.
"That magical fifth inning started when Jim Smith doubled up the centerfield gap. The next two batters walked, before John Jones smacked a grand slam over the left field fence. Following a pop up and a strike out, Tom Williams stroked a base hit, stole second and slipped into third on a wild pitch. With a new pitcher on the mound, Steve Smith walked before Ted Reynolds dropped another home run over the wall.
Now leading 7-0, the Tigers weren't done yet. Two more singles and a Larry Lesh's triple brought in two more runs before John Lee topped the inning with a two-run shot just out of the reach of the Cowboys' Ken Kasey."
Do you get the sense of what happened? The excitement? The flow of the inning and the game ? Again, nothing special, but it took time to learn how to translate details like this into short and understandable tales.
Over the course of three years I learned the basic trade of being a sports writer. And I got to do a few fun features as well, like writing about how I jumped out of an airplane in 1978.
I was then able to parlay that experience into a second newspaper job as a sports editor for another small-town paper. There I got my first chance to write new stories, and not just sports items. One of my first adventures was covering a small Nazi rally in the town square of a small community in Michigan in 1979. The world of community sports writing (mostly high school teams) was fairly normal but my world widened as I learned how to write previews of upcoming seasons, profiles of coaches and a few features about local athletes. I was most intrigued by getting a chance to cover city hall and write a few news stories, eventually learning how to dissect a government budget, read police reports or meeting minutes.
Within a few years I had covered two murders, several fatal car accidents and some nasty house/building fires. No real scandals cropped up and the weekly editions were sometimes mundane but I also met some amazing people, writing about young and old alike, telling their stories, sometimes good, often sad. It was this expanded reach of my writing that helped develop my skill set even more, and I was on my way to finding a long-range career in the newspaper business.
I liked telling stories, making plain people interesting, digesting the information I collected into coherent narratives and asking lots of questions. I looked forward to more …
My photo from Rome.