July 20, 2011
Why Not A Career in Journalism?
By Mike McManus
column, I complete 30 years of writing Ethics & Religion. And it was 50
years ago this summer that I got my first job as a reporter for my hometown
paper, The Stamford Advocate.
However, that would never have happened,
if there weren’t an angel at The Wall Street Journal, encouraging
writers from liberal arts colleges to consider reporting as a career.
junior year at Duke, a professor asked me, “Don’t you write for The
Chronicle?” I replied, “I wrote for it last year, but did not get
promoted, so I’m in student government.”
Street Journal has something it calls `The Newspaper Fund’ which
encourages applying for a cub reporter job in the summer between your
junior and senior year. Write 250 words on why you’d like to be chosen. If
you get the job, and complete it successfully, the Journal will give
you a $500 scholarship on top of what you’d earn as a reporter. And you can
call yourself a Wall Street Journal intern to help land the job.”
“I’m an idealist and think I could serve more people at a younger age as a
reporter than in any other profession.”
selected, and landed a reporter’s job in 1961 at $60 a week. The summer
before, I had earned $85 weekly as a stockroom clerk for Pitney-Bowes. If it
weren’t for the WSJ’s $500, I would have lost $250 that summer.
assignment was obituaries. The editor said, “Always ask how the name is
spelled. You might hear Smith, when it is Smyth.” In the evenings I
volunteered as a tutor with other college kids, helping black kids to read.
It was pioneering program begun by a Yale sophomore, Joe Lieberman – yes,
the future U.S. Senator.
I wrote a
story about the program, and it made page 1, my first by-lined story “By
Mike McManus.” I was very proud, until I came to work the next day. My
regular editor, who had been off the day before, was angry. “Someone gave
you a byline, when you’ve only been here a few weeks. If I had been on
duty, that would not have happened, and not on Page 1.”
bewildered. At summer’s end, the editor-in-chief said to me: “Mike we are
going to tell the Wall Street Journal that you did a good job. But I
don’t think you should consider newspapering as a career. You care too much
about your stories. You need distance.”
Again, I was
stunned. I loved the work. Each story gave me a chance to research a
corner of the world that I would never have known. However, I took his
advice seriously and applied for grad schools in foreign affairs.
I was suspended for a year from Duke because I had a car when I signed an
agreement not to have one, because I had a college loan. I rationalized I
had only paid $50 for it, but was in the wrong. Suddenly, I needed to get a
As a former
Wall Street Journal intern, I interviewed at The Washington Post
but was only offered a copyboy job. I learned Don Carter, who ran the
Newspaper Fund, was in Washington.
He gave me
priceless advice, “Mike, forget Washington. You’ve had too little
experience to make it here. What you need to do is work for the next year
as a reporter for a good local newspaper.” Like what? He opened Editor
& Publisher, a weekly magazine about the business, looked at the
classified ads, and said, The Middletown (NY) Times-Herald Record is
perfect. It’s only seven years old and already put another paper out of
business. A lot of Columbia J students go there for their first job.
leaving Washington, I got an offer to work at the Catholic paper for $100 a
week. In Middletown, Editor Al Romm asked me the population of the world and
to name five U.S. Senators not from my state. He offered me a job and said
most evenings I’d cover meetings of village or school boards. You can write
about anything during the day, even editorials. We’ll give you a camera to
be a photographer.”
great! The pay? $75. I took it.
later, I was a TIME correspondent in Argentina, began my first syndicated
column, “The Northern Perspective,” on Frostbelt issues in 1977. A sermon
inspired me to start Ethics & Religion in 1981, in which I try to suggest
answers for tough moral issues.
father-in-law used to say, “I am a happy man.”
What is now
called the Dow Jones News Fund made $470,000 in grants to 86 interns this
year. Interested? See