End of Story
August 9, 2020
Gruff, tough city editor wadded up my story and tossed it into the big wire trash basket near the city desk.
There are stories.
And then there are stories.
And, I guess, non-stories.
Learned this when I went to work for a big-city newspaper.
First day as a big-city reporter.
Clark Kent reporting for duty.
Without a cape.
Stop the presses!
Begin the stresses.
Learned from a gruff, tough, rough, no-nonsense – and take no prisoners – city editor.
Two assistant city editors worked alongside him.
One was on a leave of absence.
“Sit here,” the city editor told me.
“I want you close at hand. I want to teach you. Teach you to do it the right way. My way.”
Or the highway.
The first hours, the first deadline went by.
“I’m going for coffee.”
The assistant city editor sitting across from me answered it.
The assistant city editor told me to talk to the caller, write his story.
I interviewed the caller.
Asked every question I could think of.
Some I didn’t really think through.
Thanked the caller.
Started typing the story, fast as I could go on the nearly used-up Royal.
Tap, tap, tap, tap . . .
The assistant city editor smoked his pipe, stared at me the entire time.
Pressure of the staring.
Pressure of my first deadline.
Finished my first story.
Ahead of deadline.
Put the story in the city editor’s incoming box.
Was rather proud of it.
I can do this, I thought.
Have forgotten the details but it was an amusing little story about a family’s parakeet.
Especially in those days, everybody seemed to love parakeets.
Hoped the city editor would be proud, too.
City editor returned to his chair, coffee in hand.
Soon, thought I detected a frown.
Maybe he would have me re-write my story.
Instead, he wadded it up, tossed it – arc-like, basketball-like – whoosh! into the big wire trash basket near the city desk.
I would have preferred a re-write order.
Gruff, tough, rough city editor said nothing.
Never have liked a silent boss. Say something. Good, bad. But say something. Anything.
His silence made the heart pound.
The silence “sounded” like the death knell.
Not good. I was perceptive like that.
Definitely not good.
Finally, gruff, tough, rough city editor spoke.
Thank you for speaking.
He was terse.
Of course, he was. Gruff, tough, rough editors are like that.
Any other kind?
“I don’t like parakeet stories.”
He went silent again.
Am I out of a job?
On the first day?
Clark Kent out of a job on Day One?
Eventually, he spoke again.
“Good writing though.”
I smiled. But not on the face. Didn’t dare. Smiled inside.
He went silent.
He had said he would teach me.
Taught me about good news, bad news, non-news.
Or rather, in my case, bad news, good news.
So resting there in the oversized trash basket was my story.
My very first story.
Or, rather, my non-story.
Years later – after my city editor had gone off to work for the president of the United States and I went off to work in another part of the newsroom – I looked at the front page of the newspaper that had been delivered to my desk and there it was:
A story about a parakeet.
An amusing little story about a parakeet.
On Page One.
My story had been a non-story.
This parakeet story was a story. Made the papers.
I had just been a few years too early.
Another editor told me one time:
“News is what gets in the paper.”
I had learned.
Sorry, my amusing little parakeet.
Sorry to this day that my non-story caused you to miss your amusing little story, your 15 minutes of fame.
But, see, there was this gruff, though, rough, hard-nosed city editor from the old school who said parakeet stories were for the birds.
Well, what did he know?
Best he could do was eventually go off and work for the president in DeeCee.
Roget Summers is the author of Heart Songs from a Washboard Road. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.