193!

193!

By emmet

CareerCast has put us just where we belong. The company has rated the job as news reporter, pardon me, “Journalist” as the seventh worst job in this terrible economy.
We’re number 193.
The ink-stained wretches among us finished just ahead of waiting on tables (I always liked that), working on oil rig, being a dairy farmer or lumberjack, the very worst job of all. CareerCast blamed the reporter’s low job rating on a combination of high stress and scarce career opportunities.
I was dime-poor when I got hired by the BDN some 40 years ago. The job was open because the previous reporter had been murdered by her husband so I was not about to complain. I was hired by Saint Ted Sylvester as a part-timer for minimum wage, mileage and $5 a photo. I did a lot of driving and photography, just to eat several times a day.
This was so long ago that it was before Watergate glamorized the profession. After that, every college graduate wanted to become the next Woodward or Bernstein. I must admit that I loved the job, mostly for getting a photograph in the paper. If you got a photo on page one, it made your month.
Rockland was a wild and wooly town in those days with a motorcycle gang roaring down Main Street and hanging out at the Thorndike Lounge. The first time I walked into the Red Jacket Lounge, five guys walked out with their heads bandaged.
If there was no fight at the Dory Lounge, it was a slow day. There might be two, tomorrow.
In those days, there were reporters from the Courier, WRKD radio, BDN, Press Herald and sometimes the Camden Herald. When the Rockland city manager had the traditional Friday press conferences, there were four or five reporters sitting there. Now, there isn’t even a press conference.
The best part about working as a reporter was hanging with the other reporters, with the exception of David Grima and his fake English accent.
A few years after I arrived, David Himmelstein took over the Press Herald Office. Himmelstein was as smart as they come, a Bowdoin grad. But, thank God, he would believe anything. If I saw him on the street, I would run to my car and roar down Main Street. He would run into the BDN office and beg Sylvester to tell him what was up. “Can’t tell you. But it’s the big one,” Sylvester would say.
I once spent a few days in Wiscasset, covering a murder trial. Sylvester convinced Himmelstein that we were opening a new office there, which drove his editors insane. The competition was fierce in Rockland, the only city where the Bangor and Portland newspaper had offices.
Himmelstein had a much earlier deadline than we did. So whatever happened after he left a meeting became the lead and headline the next day.
But he got even.
I told you he was smart. He took a tour of the White House and grabbed some discarded stationery. (Great security). He wrote a letter from Jimmy Carter to Sylvester, complimenting Ted on his weekly column. Sylvester won’t admit it today, but he fell for it and passed it around the coffee shop, ground zero in Rockland society.
That was nothing. Himmelstein, a gifted writer, quickly was promoted to the Portland office. While he was there, he entered and won a national film writing contest. His first film was “Power” with Gene Hackman and an all-star cast. The East Coast premier was held in Rockland, naturally.
As we sat there in the movie dark, Hackman commented on the bizarre sexual appetites of Larry Ouellette, Himmelstein’s replacement in the PPH Rockland office. We (except for Ouellette) roared with laughter, drowning out half the commentary.
“That was nothing,” said Himmelstein later. “You were all in the movie, but they cut most of it out.” I never did find out what my comment was, but I hoped that Hackman would have announced it.
Himmelstein has since written several movies and I imagine him by the pool in California, laughing about those endless Rockland City Council meetings.
I guess he won.
Sure, the hours were long and the pay was low, even with mileage and $5 a picture. Now there are too few jobs in a disintegrating industry and too many people fighting for them. There is zero job security. Newspapers are dropping like flies.
But it was great while it lasted. You never knew what you were going to do from one day to the other. It could be a prison riot, house fire, three-car accident, a Samoset speech by Pat Robertson, a Congressman’s political speech, or meeting another fascinating, crusty Maine resident like Louise Nevelson, Andrew Wyeth, The Patriot, Ralph Cline or the artist “Blackie” Langlais. You got paid to read other newspapers. The paper would publish your photographs and pay you for it.
Even dealing with Himmelstein and Grima, it was great fun and was much better than working on an oil rig.
We’re number 193!