Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Assistant editor: memoir 14

When Charlie Ferrell became editor of Southern California Business, the weekly publication for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, he hired me as his assistant. It was 1978. The first day of my first real job, I had no idea what to expect. 
     I drove my white Datsun 510 station wagon into downtown Los Angeles, the ashtray full and my eight-track tape blaring Fleetwood Mac. The Chamber had been started way back in 1888 by businessmen who wanted a deep-water harbor, and also to increase the population -- at the time 1,000 people were leaving the city each month. The Chamber succeeded, boy did they! Rush hour traffic now took nearly ninety minutes from the beach.
fave desk things: pens & dictionary
     Charlie had my desk ready with a typewriter, a stack of brown newsprint, pens, and a reporter's 4x8 spiral notebook. My first assignment was a board meeting in just three hours. I nearly panicked. I'd never done this before, written about corporate stuff. This wasn't going to be a parade with candy.
     The conference room was cavernous. At noon I settled into a back corner and scribbled notes while the suited businessmen and women ate lunch. Prone to daydreaming, and nervous I'd zone out, I taped the whole thing on my little Panasonic--for the first and last time! It meant returning to my desk and re-listening to tortuous minutes of a droning voice, and then typing the report and turning it in to Charlie. From then on I resolved to pay attention and try to get it right the first time. Alas, he rejected my story. I've saved it all these years, so here it is:
     Hanauer spilled his iced tea. His neck and ears turned red. What a mess. Then he stretched a stiff smile over his glaring teeth. The maitre d' scurried over and with the white linen napkins soaked up the spreading tea. The lady next to him scooted her chair from the table, dabbing at her dress. The maitre d' brought another glass of tea. And a bowl of yellow custard.
     Okay, obviously I didn't have a clue about writing a business story. How do you even start? I thumbed through some back issues of the SCB paper and found a familiar lead from my Reporting 101 class called, A Question. As in, "Why did the chairman yawn in the middle of his speech?" That helped a lot. Those first months of reporting events, I started many articles with A Question, but the main one pounding in my brain was, "How on earth am I going to pull this off?"
     I fumbled my way. In addition to my SCB salary, the Chamber began paying me $25 per news release. I was getting the hang of things.

From BLUE SKIES: ONE AUTHOR'S JOURNEY, to be published this Fall.

No comments: