I started writing and reading radio news a long time ago by accident. In my mid-twenties, after several years as a rock and roll disc jockey, I decided it was time to grow up.
One morning in 1975, while writing and recording commercials for a news and talk station in Sacramento, I was drafted to fill in for the real news anchor, who was sick. The station was desperate for somebody to just sit in the chair, read the stories and play the commercials.
Almost forty years later it still feels like I’m just filling in for the real news anchor.
I never had any desire to be a reporter but I learned by being sent to boring news conferences and terrifying police actions.
Early on I did a live report from inside a cloud of tear gas while a guy in a trailer was taking potshots at anything that moved.
Another day I found myself outside a bank where a shootout and police standoff suddenly made me a network reporter for ABC. A couple of months later it happened again when an attempted plane hijacking occurred at an airport near my home.
In that first year or two I was always in the wrong place at just the right time. (Or, vice versa.)
I never wanted to be in the serious news business. I’m not a serious guy. I was just a radio guy doing what I was told to do: tell what’s going on and how you feel about it.
Some of my past and present colleagues won’t be amused to learn that I have always thought the word “journalist” to be snotty and condescending. A few of you who find and develop your own stories are the real deal, of course, but most of us are fakers. I never wanted to have that label, “journalist”, hung on me because I don’t like it and I haven’t earned it. I just tell stories and try to be interesting and entertaining.
Weirdly, along the way through forty years I have gotten a bunch of awards I didn’t seek or expect, including four Mark Twain Awards from the Associated Press. The anti-journalist in me must admit, I kinda like those because Mark Twain is my hero.
Mark Twain told stories. He was interesting and entertaining.
This past week I was stunned to learn that I’ve been recommended for a fellowship to join six or seven other American “journalists” to travel to Germany in early November for the 25th anniversary commemoration of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Suddenly – after forty years of delivering news and information in the morning – it has finally landed on my thick skull:
I am an accidental journalist in the tradition of my hero who said, among many other wonderful things:
“If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed.
If you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.“