Ledger Retreats

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.

Mother’s Day

Mothers’ Day once was painful for me.

I was one of those women who had fertility issues. Of course, that was long, long ago.

My daughter, June, entered my life in 1974. She was 4 and I was ready to create a different sort of family.

A few years later I became a mother again. It was a miracle. My son, Timothy, came into my life, adding more joy.

Someone forgot to give me the map for motherhood.

I did the best I could.

I know I do better at being a grandmother. Afterall, there are no expectations of what a grandmother is responsible for.

Now Mothers’ Day is a chance to think about the purpose of life and the thoughts of Kahlil Gilbran, who said:

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.”

Then and Now

Just watched Penelope Trunk on the web explain how to get along with Generation Y.

She explained the young people are not interested in money and won’t pay their dues to climb a career ladder. But they love their parents and are very good team players.

I’m what they call a Baby Boomer. I realize I don’t fit her box for Baby Boomers. I type my blog a few minutes after midnight, sitting silently in my two bedroom condo in Dorchester.

I grew up in Milton. My business is in Milton. My 30-year-old son graduated from Milton High. But I moved to Dorchester because I’ve chosen to sink the profits of my life into a business I enjoy and the education of my two children. Neither of my children have eliminated their school loans yet. It’s a goal as much for me as for them.

I have a plan – but I’m keeping it secret until I reach the goal.

Was I ever focused on money? Not really. Today money is more of an issue because my business operates on a level that requires a steady cash flow. There are bills to pay – the printer, the post office, suppliers, but most of all the employees and various contributors who keep the Milton Times in operation.

My first fulltime job as a journalist paid $115 a week. That was in 1968 at the Patriot Ledger and I was on step 2 of their scale with credit for time worked before I earned my bachelor’s degree. I loved my job. I loved the people I worked with.

Maybe I belonged to Generation Y back then. I lived just fine on the money I earned. What was important was that I was learning constantly and having fun.

You know, I still am learning. That’s why I twitter and tweet. And Facebook. And Linkedin.

Truth is I don’t know what I’m doing yet but I’m learning.

We Began on the Dining Room Table

The first few issues of the Milton Times were produced at my dining room table in Milton.

My daughter and my mother worked with me to paste up the copy.

My daughter had lived around newspapers most of her life. When she was four years old, she used to visit the newsroom of the daily where I worked after day care. She would wander around, talk with other reporters, help the janitor sweep the floor, draw on old newsprint. It was a good life.

June had come into my life in 1974 – I was 28, divorced and wanting very much to be a mother. That was the year the state decided single people were suitable as adoptive parents. Not long after she and I became a family, my co-workers took over the newsroom to give us a toy shower.

That was one of the best days of my life. My co-workers were truly all the family I needed back then. I was incredibly grateful for the friendships.

Time passed and somehow the corporations that were gobbling up newspapers had pushed me out of the world of reporting. By then I had two children and no other source of financial suppport.

I had learned much about newspapers over the years. I had learned that you needed to know who you were writing for. You needed to know how to get the paper to your market. And you needed to know who would pay to be included in that news vehicle. The bottom line needed to fill a need for the advertisers.

Knowing all that, I also knew that I probably had to own a newspaper if I wanted to avoid another layoff.

I expected my two children would help me if I started a newspaper. I was surprised that my mother was willing to take a role.

But in 1995, I sat at the dining room table late into the night with my daughter and my mother using rubber cement to glue the first issues. Desktop publishing created the ability to print crisp fonts with a regular laser printer. My mother was the one who understood what Milton was really about. I understood news and technology. My daughter’s strong suit was graphic design and computer savvy.

I’m not sure whether either of them were having fun.

I know I was sure we could do this but I also realized it would take at least a year of crazy long hours with no guarantee of a return. But I also realized I had to make it work – or find another way to pay the household bills.

My son, who was still in high school, was willing to handle the newspaper deliveries for the price of a used car. That was probably one of the best deals I ever made.

There were so many people who helped me without asking for anything in return. Writers donated their work. Photographers took pictures. A woman who had once worked for the other paper in town offered to sell advertising space.

The number of gifts continues to overwhelm me. I need to spend a long time creating a list of the generous people who encouraged me. So many wonderful people.

Background

My first job in newspapers came my way because of the goodwill of a wonderful man. Ed Querzoli was city editor at the Quincy Patriot Ledger in 1966. I was a student at Stonehill College, majoring in English literature, and living in Milton at my family’s home.

My goal in life was to write books of fiction. I wanted the fiction to be excellent. Making a living was a concern. The idea of working for a newspaper seemed like a way to use my skill as a writer to earn money.

But I had no experience. Well, I had been co-editor of my high school newspaper. And I had lots of poetry that was dark in a teen-aged sort of way.

So one afternoon in 1965, I gathered up some of my poetry, a couple old high school newspapers and dropped by the Ledger newsroom and asked how to apply for a job. Ed took time to speak with me and explained I had no experience – no clips – and that my poems and high school essays proved that.

I told him they proved I could write and that writing for a newspaper would not be very different.

It’s just a different subject, I told him.

He told me to come back in a week or so.

And that began our relationship. At the time I didn’t know he was just too nice a man to tell me no chance, no way.

I came back a week later with an innocent smile. Each of our conversations ended with him saying, come back in a week or so. And so I kept coming back. After eight of these meetings, he finally said. OK I’ll give you a chance. He gave me a stack of what they called rewrites. Each had a mark at the top saying “1 graph” or maybe “3 graphs.”

I sat at an old Royal typewriter and put the information into the one or two paragraphs.  Who, what, where, when and why. Simple sentences. About four hours later, having finished the pile, I asked Ed what to do next.

He said come back next week. He told me he thought he could find about eight hours a week for me.

I don’t think I’ve ever been happier with the promise of a job. I had no idea what I’d be paid.

People don’t go into newspapers for the money. And there are still good people, like the late Ed Querzoli, who will give a beginner a chance.