When I was young I wanted to be many things when I grew up: ice skater, rock star, ballet dancer, wife of Michael J. Fox, etc. but when I got to be a teenager, I really had a feeling I’d end up a writer. Writing always came easy to me, and it was something I couldn’t physically stop doing, no matter what the situation.
Of course, when I was young, we still had those things called newspapers, so I naturally wanted to be a reporter. I found chasing stories and asking people hard questions to be an exciting job.
I would take my fashionable Minolta Disc camera (it was green, silver and awesome) to take important photos of whatever I was supposed to be covering. But of course, I had to wait for the roll of film to be finished, so it always seemed like a lifetime before we got the actual photos back.
This is what a roll of film looked like post-developing:
Thankfully, when I became the editor of the paper in high school (it was called The Verdict, because our school was named for a Supreme Court Justice), I had photographers with real SLR cameras to accompany me on my assignments, and they always took better photos like the one below this paragraph. This was the day we got to ditch class (with the journalism advisor’s permission) and head to downtown Portland to catch a glimpse of Madonna filming Body of Evidence with Willem Dafoe. We didn’t meet her or speak with her, but I wrote a review of the film and Jason snapped this great picture. I wonder whatever happened to Jason.
Also important in a young journalist’s life were the obligatory Steno pads. In the days pre-digital-recorder, and pre-laptop, we had to resort to good, old-fashioned paper and pens, and because I’m painfully nostalgic, I kept my favorite two Steno notebooks: the one I had while working at The Oregonian and the other one I received at journalism camp my junior year.
What was a high school student doing at The Oregonian? Working hard, that’s what! No, really, I was living out a geeky dream. I had been chosen to write for a city-wide student newspaper called Youth Today and our advisor was Judson Randall, a senior editor at the paper back then. We met and worked in the actual Oregonian newsroom, and the summer after I began there, I was chosen to attend a journalism workshop in Washington DC, which led to me meet some lifelong friends and contribute to another student newspaper called Young DC.
Apart from the actual fun of reporting news and crafting stories, those experiences marked my first real moments of independence as a young adult: I took a bus (or drove myself) downtown to work at the newspaper, signed myself in with a security badge and taught myself how to use the prehistoric (but at the time very cool) computer terminals. I would walk down to Powell’s Books and research stories for hours; I took my first solo plane ride to Washington DC at age 16 and have been a frequent flier ever since.
One of my favorite articles back in the old days was a piece I did for the traveling exhibit that featured Anne Frank’s actual diary on display. That had been my favorite book since I first read it in 6th grade and I was obsessed with Anne for many years, identifying with her in many ways (though I wasn’t Jewish). When the show came to town I literally got goosebumps just reading a flyer for it, so I knew that assignment had to be mine. I contacted the American Friends of the Anne Frank Center (they were sponsoring it), and they gave me a guided personal tour so I could enjoy the full scope of the presentation. I was moved to tears and promptly went home to write the article you see below. It made the front page.
Less than a year later, I had applied and been accepted to the famous University of Missouri-Columbia journalism school. I worked briefly a real newspaper before deciding that I couldn’t earn a good enough living doing that and became an advertising writer instead. Hence, my career today.
The money is certainly better, but marketing will never take the place of a well-worn Steno Pad.