Excerpts from 1996 interview with Academy of Achievement
HAD SEVERAL TEACHERS BEFORE college who were encouraging to me.
In eighth grade there was a teacher named Anne Batten, who was the journalism
counselor to the little school paper that we put out. She made me believe
that I could do good work, and there were others. Thinking back on that,
I am pretty sure that's what people of that ageseventh, eighth,
ninth gradersneed more than anything else. Just a little bit of
encouragement. They need to believe, 'This is something I can do.' They
need a compliment once in a while. Good teachers know how to bring out
the best in students.
I FINALLY WENT TO WORK for my hometown newspaper, my folks were
still very helpful to me. I think my mother had more doubts about my
being a reporter than my father did. My father was a public figure.
He was in the press all the time, trying to keep the county commission
from cutting welfare benefits to poor children, and all that kind of
thing. And it was a conservative community, so he was on the hot seat
constantly, at war with the county commissioners. And my newspaper editorially
sometimes supported the other side. My mother, at least twice, canceled
our family's subscription to the newspaper I was working on, because
she was so mad about its treatment of my father.
I RECOGNIZE THAT I HAD a good deal of good luck in my life. For one thing, I came along at a time when it was pretty easy to get a job in journalism. I went to work at CBS News when I was about 22, and within a year or so was reporting on the air. It's impossible to imagine that happening to a young person today. In those days, television was expanding so quickly that you didn't really have to have much age and experience. Almost any warm body would do. They were hiring people in those days just about as fast as they're laying people off in broadcast news today. So that was purely a matter of luck. I didn't have the ambition to be a broadcaster. I was going to be a newspaper reporter the rest of my life, but that opportunity came along, just because I was the right age. So luck has a part in it. I keep coming back to the passion for what I was doing. That was the overwhelming thing to me. Not where I worked, or where I lived, or how high I rose in the profession, but . . . just the joy of carrying my portable typewriter to an event and trying to describe it.
I BELIEVE THAT WRITING IS DERIVATIVE. I mean, I think good writing comes from good reading. And I think that writers, when they sit down to write, hear in their heads the rhythms of good writers they have read. Sometimes I could even tell you which writer's rhythms I am imitating. It's not exactly plagiarism, but it's just experience. It's falling in love with good language and trying to imitate it.
I WOKE UP ONE DAY and decided I'd done it long enough. But looking back on it, I must say, it was a very satisfying life. There is also this element: I didn't know how to do anything else. I really couldn't have succeeded in the wholesale grocery trade. This was one thing knew how to do. Of course, as anyone does, I got better at it as I got older. As I look back on it now, I think I'd have done better if I had been a little more relaxed in my life. If I had not pressed quite so hard, if I'd not lost quite so much sleep. I don't think I had a reputation as a hard worker, but inside I was always being eaten up by the pressures. And I think I probably could have done a better job if I had been more mature and been able to take a deep breath and just say, 'Come on. Whether this story gets on the air tonight or not is not really the end of the world. We'll do our best, and that's all we can do.' But I was driven. Not on the surface maybe, but I had a tight stomach all the time. I actually developed ulcers. I don't think I could get an ulcer anymore. I think I've learned better than to put all that internal pressure on myself. I had terrible migraine headaches. The funny thing is, they always came on the rare day when I had a day off. I thought of them as Sunday headaches, because as long as I kept that spring tightly wound, I was fine. When I let it relax, then I suffered, because it was such a change.
I'D LIKE TO WRITE SOMETHING that would live. It's getting a little late. I'd better get at it if I'm going to do that. In television, you know, everything is gone with the speed of light, literally. It is no field for anybody with intimations of immortality, because your stuff, by and large, doesn't live on. It's not easy for me to admit, but I would love to write something that people would still read 50 or 100 years from now. That comes with growing older, I think. You begin to think, 'Well, what have I ever done to benefit society? What have I ever written that would excite a young reader years from now, the way Mark Twain's journalism still excited me when I first read Roughing It and Innocence Abroad?' So we can't all be Mark Twain. In fact, I guess it's fair to say, none of us can be Mark Twain, except Mark Twain. But you do begin to yearn to write some thing that gains a little permanence.
USA Today Editorial
Order From Amazon.com
Copyright 2005 by Kenilworth Media Inc.
No part of this website may be reproduced