Looking back at my first job brings a smile to my life.
The people I worked with at the Patriot Ledger back in the 70s were bright and committed and caring.
Back then I was part of a company union that included about 70 reporters and copy editors. We all considered ourselves professionals. The Ledger covered about 30+ towns from Plymouth to Westwood in those years. There were three (or three and a half) editions. Each town had a correspondent and none of the correspondents were part of the union.
The Ledger was in a growth stage back then. There were rules about town coverage. We were sure to cover Selectmen and School Committee. Each day (five days a week) there would be a town column. The bigger towns, with bigger readership were high status amongst our little band of journalists.
Of course, Quincy, being the only city in the region and the highest readership was the jewel.
Most of us wanted to be the city hall reporter. My turn came in the early 70s. It was a great time. There were scandals to study. Amazing people to profile. It was a great life.
Then another war broke out in Isreal. And being interested in the larger world, I decided I wanted to be a war correspondent. I didn’t plan to make a lifetime of it. I expected the war would be over in a matter of days. I told the executive editor, Ed Querzoli, that I wanted to cover the war in Isreal. He told me I was the city hall reporter but that he would talk it over with the editor, Don Wilder. Within a matter of an hour, Don and I were discussing my hopes and plans.
He told me I could take a month but when I returned I wouldn’t be the city hall reporter. He said the Ledger wanted first refusal on all the stories I might write while I was in Isreal but he wanted promising they would publish them and I’d be paid as a freelancer during my leave of absence.
The time I spent in Isreal during the Yom Kippur War helped me understand a great deal about myself and my world. The war only lasted three weeks. I was able to travel in buses to the front with other journalists. I watched mortar fire explode in the sand of the desert. I interviewed soldiers who came from the US to join the Isrealis because they were Jewish. I interviewed civilian soldiers who put their lines on hold every so often to fight – men and women.
I talked with people who lived near the mountains of the Golan – people who were accustomed to gun fire and missiles in what people considered times of peace.
And then I returned to the Ledger. Collected about $300 in freelance fees. And went back to working general assignment.
One lesson I learned was that everything is local. For the people I met and interviewed during my time in the war zone, the end of the fighting was just a reprieve.
For me it was a lesson in the value of commitment.
These days the Ledger has changed its focus, away from the intense desire to cover all the news about its communities. They let all the correspondents go. They continue to decrease the staff. And the readership continues to diminish.
Fred Hanson, who has been the Milton reporter for a while, has been reassigned to Braintree. No one is being assigned to replace him. The Ledger is down to about 30 people in its editorial union. It is a sad time.