Sunday, December 14, 2008

Peter Rosen, Ace Weekly Shopper Reporter

I began my career in journalism at age 10 or 11 in the newspaper business.

No, I never delivered papers. But I helped write them.

As a stringer for a chain of weeklies in the sleepy northern NJ suburbs, I covered the sensational developments at evening planning, zoning and town councils meetings. With little graft and corruption (that I knew about) to root out, and with pay at 25 cents a column inch, this entailed waxing as poetic as I could about commercial rezoning.

A few years later, I spent a summer on staff. These were the kind of papers that still typeset classified ads in hot lead on a linotype machine, the Rube Goldberg contraption that had become a museum piece by the 70s. (One of our editors was 95 years old, was born about the same time as the Mergenthaler Linotype, and probably came with the machine.)

We wrote on manual typewriters on newsprint. And when we cut and pasted, we did just that with rubber cement.

Spellcheck was something H.G.Wells might've dreamt up. On Saturdays we proofed galleys and cut out errant punctuation, literally, with an Xacto knife.

There, I learned some valuable lessons.

When going to cover a garbage strike, always, always, put film in the camera before starting to snap photos.

My first day on the job, the paper's star reporter and his typewriter had just skipped town. My editor, sobbing with her head down on her desk, was having a nervous breakdown. And one of the two remaining reporters was complaining how, even with a full-time job and state welfare, she still couldn't make ends meet.

I should've read the signs.

But here I am.

A testament to the inescapable allure of the word and the story. Or, maybe, just to my inability to learn.

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