Thursday, August 02, 2007

In journalism, they carry knives this long. In academia, they say, "You call that a knife?"

How cruel and flashlight-shining-in-your-face is the world.

I mean the world of writing, specifically, journalism.

There we were, seven of us, from the top universities on the continent, all of us summer reporters--not internes, not gofers, real reporters for four months.

I was in special awe of the guy from Princeton, scared to death of the U of T guy, who had been editor of the Varsity, greatly impressed by the UBC man, certainlly scared of Marci McDonald, also U of T. Then there was the guy from CUNY, New York; there was a sister of Jeannie Beker, CITY TV superstar.

Holy cow. I was just a simple shepherd who somehow got some poetry published at Ryerson Polytech's literary magazine. My entrance papers to the Toronto Star consisted of my poor poetry that a top editor had read. He had liked it.

The work was hard and gruelling. You were basically doing all the journalistic chores, from rewriting stories, to headline writing, to business news. Most days and nights you sat at the City Desk like a fireman waiting for a fire in the form of happenings. Things did happen. You had to think on your feet, get to the point of the story, the heart of it and put it out in so many minutes and in the proscribed nuimber of lines and words; you'd think there was a paper shortage, you had to write so tightly, not a word wasted.

I could handle the work, but found some of the university kids were beginning to flag.

The UBC guy was having a nervous breakdown.
"I am overwhemed by my own incompetence."

The Princeton fellow could hardly keep up. Had been in Einstein's department once, and he couldn't keep up.
This was the big leagues. The Darwin principle was operating.

The media family girl gave it all up and she and I started prancing around the newsroom, trying to elist as many reporters as we could in doing a Madrigal. It kind of worked. We got them singing. Anything to take the pressure off.

Basically, it was the need for speed and accuracy, to take a complicated, libel-mined legal story, for example, to
get to the heart of it and produce it in fifteen minutes, because you were always on top of deadline for the four editions of the paper every day. You also had to "match" (rewrite- and- add- to) Globe & Mail stories; the competing paper came out earlier than The Star, so we copied like crazy.

"Journalism is a young man's game," columnist Gary Lautens would warn us.

He would look over at the Varsity girl. "What's a nice broad like you doing in a crummy trade like this?" Oh yes, these were the "Man's world" Sixties!

Popular that year was Alan Silletoe's "Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner".

Oh yeah.

I would watch my field of summer reporters, sensed their tongues hanging out.

Some began to drop. Marilyn Beker wanted out.

But here and there one of them would get a by-line, their name in the paper.

I saw many of my stories by-lined, but my name seemed to vanish by the time it got through seven editors.

I could handle the work, but I was not getting the by-lines.

Marci McDonald was from U. of T. Marcie McDonald was gorgeous.

Marci McDonald got the top stories, the sexiest stories.

And all the while we were told, "There will be no stars at The Star".

All the while, Marci McDonald was becoming a star.

Oh the loneliness of the long distance runner.

My own tongue was beginning to hang out. I was getting no bylines.

I stopped being careful. I began to "invent" happenings. Anything to get that by-line. It was only a month before I'd be getting back to Ryerson.
Lots of money, high pay, but still no story with my name on it.
Only Marci and the guy from Simon Frazer.

The four months soon ended. We had been so highly paid. They gave us an extra week's paycheck for being good
boys and girls.

Damn.

All this effort and nothing in The Star with my name on it.

O Lord won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz!

I graduated from Ryerson, went on to a Master's degree, but still smarted over not being a star at the Star.

I went underground for a while, approached The Star from a freelancing angle, and Wham. Big by-line!

They were going to pull all the streetcars out of Toronto and sell them to Abu Dhabi.

I got wind of the story and made the front page of Starweek Magazine, carried by The Star. Very quickly, I was promoted to weekend editor of Starweek.

And then the knives came out.

"No stars at The Star."

Darn, what a heavily edited newspaper.

How heavily edited we all were.

This was really American Idol, but at a more commonplace level.

Quite a welcome to the real world.

My obsession with The Star never quite ebbed.

More recently, I was a heavy contributor to Antonia Zerbisias' blog in The Star.

And then they started going after Antonia.

What a heavily-edited paper is The Star.

But hell, shucks, it was my alma mater, my entry ticket into the real world.

I moved to academia, where they carry knives this long.

Sigh.


Ivan




32 comments:

benjibopper said...

Would you hate me if I told you I preferred the Globe?

I once had a letter featured in the Star. It was called 'Death of a Cyclist.' I wrote it a flash of anger and I was shocked that they published it, let alone made it their top featured letter of the day, woo woo.

To give them their due, The Star do some good series on social issues in the city.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Ah, that old sytem of gradation.

Those who completed Grade l3 read The Globe.

Those who dropped out in Grade 10 read the Star.

Those who flunked Grade 10 read the SUN.

I have worked for all three of them, wasn't as hot as I thought I was and was one day fired by the old Tely just before the Telegram itself went under. Pyrrhic victory!

I was given to muttering under my breath:
F-me? You just effed yourself by your stupid accounting tricks.
Seems the Telegram was screwed by accountants, John Bassett's personal tax write-off. I said something about this
and the next thing I knew, I was disaccounted.

Yep, the Star had a tradition of watching out for the little guy.
They certainly watched out for me over the years.

Ivan

Anonymous said...

Ivan:

In case you have any lingering reservations at all about site traffic, I happened to be looking at CreativeWriting.com when your mail arrived. Glad you're getting that groove back.
(Off soon for that bottleneck [bottle-wringing?] week of relaxation. Driving to Belleville tonight to watch a slide master, none other than George Thorogood, late of the Delaware Destroyers, from whom I hope to draw inspiration. Will inhale deeply and await visions.)

Peace.

JM

Ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

JM,

I'm sure George Thorogood was thorogood.
Rocks me too.

Web pal Josie went to see John Forgarty at an outdoor venue at Deer Lake Park in Burnaby, BC.

Josie reports he was "fantastic".


Ivan

EA Monroe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
EA Monroe said...

(Hahaha, Ivan -- I had to delete my post because of a typo!)

Ivan, you need a machette.

When I worked at the college printing shop, I spent hours between classes pasting up, shooting, developing, stripping film, and plating the college newspaper. I even had to hit the street and sell ads for the paper and then come back and create the ads.

I kept wondering how come none of the journalism majors who worked on the paper never had to hit the streets and sell ads!

I mean, jeez!

All I had was an Exacto Knife and the blade was dull.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Hi Liz,
And welcome.

Yes, something like elitism develops as Journalism majors get close to graduation.
There is the perception that one is now white collar and the typesetters and makeup people are bluecollar. Yet it was the bluecollar guys who did all the hard work and made you look good, translating your unskilled typing and make-up into something readable and interesting.
(This, of course has changed; you set your own type as you write your own story. There are still the paste-up people but largely, the work is handled by computer-savvy editors. You make up the page and crop pictures right on the screen...I guess you do that at your job right now.
Suddenly, there is no bluecollar any more; because of computers, we are all bluecollar, and our own IT guys).

Would you believe that with all my pretensions, I had a technology lag that went as far back as l974?
If they hadn't taught me how to type, I wouldn't have been able to do anything at all...They put me in the composing room for a while and I didn't last the day. Remember that little cursor, kind of square-shaped that you had to jiggle onto any corrections you made? For a guy who makes a typing mistake every second line, I found the whole thing extremely challenging--hell, maybe I was just challenged!
Luckily, I got onto writing and selling a column and that kept the fat out of the fire.

Ah, the longing for the good old days, when all you had to do was write.

Ivan

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

p.s. to Liz,

I have heard it said that the absolute sine qua non
of the journalist is of that of the poor hack actually producing a novel. A novel trumps all journalism.

Let's you and I get our novels together. We're gonna clean their clocks! :)

Ivan

Josie said...

Ivan, I still say you should write a memoir. You would make a fortune. I have never met anyone as interesting (or as extroverted) as you are. You would get along with my munchkin F. He is wild and crazy too, but very, very smart. You should see his take-off on a 1980s aerobics instructor. It's falling-down funny.

ivan@creartivewriting.ca said...

Whoops.

In my cups tonight.

But a few years ago, an East Indian family came to me with a son who was failing in school for some reason.

I introduced him to Archie Comics among other (face it!) cool things about our society, and the kid
passed with flying colours.
The kid was unfairly accused of not being able to read...
Not after Archie! I guess Betty, Veronica and Archie got a bright kid's attention...the educators had somehow let him fall through the cracks.
I'm sure your munchkin and I would have some moments leafing through Antoine St. Exupery's The Little Princewho, I think had some Archie elements.
At least so it seems to me,uh, through a glass lightly.

Ivan

JR's Thumbprints said...

What's my line anyway?--I mean: Your by-line anyway?

I enrolled in one journalism course in college. By the second class session I'd had enough. The blow-hard professor kept telling us about all the important people she had met. I guess she had her own by-line, yet I'd never seen it.

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

Ivan,

I am at a loss. Why does it take so much for good writers to get puiblished and ones that seem rather drab get it done easily. Of course, I can be no judge of writing. I do fancy yours and Homo Escapeons. You both seem to put it out there without any hesitation. To me, that is the problem with writers today... too busy worrying ... just say it. Seems simple enough. Maybe people in those positions are just too hung up on themselves.

xoxo

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

JR,

Ya gotta stoop to conquer.

If you click onto "Dumpster Diving"
(above) you'll see my by-line--longest name in the paper, probably. :)
My serious stuff, in the SUN, TOPIC, Canadian Magazine, Reader's Digest (Canadian edition) and Starweek Magazine has been seized as collateral by an irate partner, but I'm sure if you check the Toronto Public Library Reference deparment, you'll find lots of stuff.
As for my early short story and poetry, click onto "Ryerson l967" above.
Oh hell, just google the Toronto Public Library. They scoop up everything.
My friend, I am an excellent bulsh*tter, but a lot of that familiar stuff has been rendered into cold print.
I like to think I got neither my published material nor my degree out of a popcorn box.

Yes, I have had "professors" whose sole claim to publishing fame came from one letter in some obscure publication titled, perhaps, "The East Jesus Times." They are easy to spot and one page of their work immediately shows you their paucity.
These folks can do a student great harm.
I have had one bad teacher and he almost scotched my career with his manipulations.

Ivan

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

"Inside":
I have found in Canada, that the most widely published writers are the grant-grabbers. The work hardly matters--it's getting that government grant.
You might sell five books, but you get $40,OOO, and so does your "government" publisher.

To be fair, I have had grants, though after the publisher and editor make their car payments, there is precious little left for you.
I think the U.S. has a better system, the MFA program.
I have had two fellowships under the auspices of the University of California.
Gee, I hate to say it, and I hate to be crass but in Canada, it really does seem that it's not what you know, but whom you blow.

(I'll have to check out Home Escapeons. You are actually a pretty good appraisor of writing.
If Home Escapeons is like me, he will probbably not stop to defend himself on every point in his writing; likely, it's "Full Speed Ahead" and damn the nit-pickers).

Ivan

the walking man said...

My older brother was a Journalism major in college and with BA in hand went to a small newspaper [circ about 15k] in northern Michigan, wrote a bit but to be honest I never liked his writing, but he wound up as the managing editor after about 15 years, then moved down to one of Detroit's two major dailies where he started out on the rim and wound up as one of the county bureau chiefs.

I gave him my first novel to edit and he decided that he should go to law school instead. He never finished editing it because he said; "you write from the heart and I can't take it without turning it into a news story" I found it better to edit it myself.

Now he is consigned to twice the amount of time in limbo hell one for being a journalist and the other for being an attorney

[yes he passed the bar his first go round and now defends doctors in malpractice cases which is one of the reasons I do NOT trust doctors]

Ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

TWM,

Your brother must be one clever cuss. Clever enough to know that the true professions are medicine and law.
Both, of course, are strongly suspect as medicine has a very strong profit motive to it (drug companies and the stock market) and here in Canada lawyers have been villified for having no ethics. Profit motive again.

Of course, some of us "writers" aren't simon pure either. I charge
$20 and hour to edit stuff. But I don't think that's exorbitant.

Our defense mechanism (a weak one, I think) is "what the hell, we write obituaries for both doctors and lawyers."

Ivan

the walking man said...

Editing my obit then at that rate would cost about a nickel.

Peace

TWM

Ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

"Man Dies"?

Nothing to glean from that, even in word count. :)

Ivan

Josie said...

How's by you, Boychik? We're having perfect weather here, and the fireworks finale is tonight. The music is always the best part of it. It's spectacular.

Cheers,
Josie

P.S. John Fogerty said it was really hot in Toronto when he was there.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Hi Josie,

A welcome comment.

It is so hot in Toronto right now that Paris Hilton is considered cool.

Fireworks.

Good.

Over here, my brain seems to be exploding.

Got this godawful phone call.

I am sitting here trying to put together a coherent blog.

Have you ever consicously sat down and tried to write a coherent blog?
It's impossible.

Oh, am I going to write some sh*it!

Ivan

JM said...

Ivan:

What resonance this post has for me -- that first summer of endless obituaries and advertorials, and then the subsequent decades in the yoke -- and my first Star byline not too long ago.
This runner's nearly gassed. And the finish line is nowhere in sight.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Jeff,

Yeah, those journalistic vinyards.

Congrats on the Star pick-up.

Back in the big leagues.

Ivan

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