Soon after graduating from Marshall College, I landed my first journalism job at a small daily newspaper on the North Carolina coast. The Wilmington Morning Star needed a sports writer. I became the number two man on a two-man sports staff.
I was off and running - or so I thought.
After nine months of writing sports - and photographing my own pictures - I learned a pretty valuable lesson. Don't call your boss a bad name, even if you think he deserves it.
Case scenario: Boss promises young sports writer that he (the boss) and the young writer will take turns covering the key college football games that fall. After the boss covers the big game for the fifth straight Saturday, young writer mentions the "promise."
"What promise?" asks the boss. "I didn't make you any such promise." To which the young writer replies, "Well, you're a lying son of a bitch." Not a good idea, especially when the two of you are standing in the newsroom and the managing editor is also standing there.
Was I fired? On the spot.
I lasted on my second job all of three months before getting fired. Again working as a sports writer - this time at a medium-sized daily in the Los Angeles area - it seems my boss didn't appreciate my creative and imaginative spelling ability.
Not exactly an auspicious career start, I must admit. But I did learn that despite the fact that one gets fired, life does go on. For me, it was on to nearby Pomona and another medium-size California daily for two years, then to the Los Angeles Times for four years and finally to Ohio and the Cincinnati Enquirer for 11 years.
Photographers can make a difference
During those first 18 years of my newspaper career, the one thing I didn't want to be was the "boss." I was happy doing what I was doing - meeting people from all walks of life, writing about them, photographing them. Those were interesting (often-times exciting) and professionally fulfilling days.
Life was good. But of course, not perfect. Fortunately I learned that a photographer doesn't have to be the boss to make positive changes. In Pomona and Los Angeles I was required to use inferior company-provided cameras. When I showed my supervisors I could make better pictures with my Leica 35mm cameras than I could with the company's 4x5 and 2 1/4 cameras, they agreed to bend the rules and let me use personal equipment.
In my next job, at the Cincinnati Enquirer, the photographers were all using their own equipment - expensive Nikons and Leicas with multiple lenses - which was beginning to wear out. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of bitching going on.
But I had a better idea. Don't complain. Let's do something. That "something" later became known as The Cincinnati 5 Revolt.
THE CINCINNATI FIVE Enquirer
staff photographers, from
Mark Treitel, Fred Straub, Gerry Wolter, Tom
Hubbard and Bob Lynn made
a nationwide survey to
prove to management that their camera equipment
was woefully inadequate. The five won their case.
My plan was to conduct a survey to learn how other newspaper photo departments across the country were equipped. Four other photographers joined in to do the survey. The fearful ones did not. The results made the Enquirer equipment look pretty bad. I ended up writing a 55-page report (including charts) explaining to management why the company should provide us new cameras and lenses, and compensate us for using our own gear through the years.
The paper's editor wrote back a two-page letter, turning us down. I wrote back a four-page letter explaining to him - very nicely - why we were right and he was wrong. Well, guess what, he saw the light. Each Enquirer photographer received two Nikon camera bodies and three lenses, plus we were compensated for the many years of using our own equipment.
Victory. And two lessons. One: that when upper management truly understands a situation, it can do the right thing. Two: sitting on your duff and bitching doesn't really accomplish much.
Not just a photographer
As time went on at the Enquirer, I came to realize that even though I was a photographer - or "just" a photographer, as some would say - it was up to me to convince the paper that it needed to hire its first picture editor.
So I set out to convince the editor, Luke Feck. At the time, I was working on a master's degree in journalism with a photojournalism emphasis at Ohio University. I became inspired about the value of picture editors by the legendary Chuck Scott, founder of the OU photojournalism program. And I was getting pumped about becoming a picture editor myself.
I made a suggestion to Feck: Let me critique the Enquirer's picture use and page layout (as they called it in the old days) for him every day for three months. He agreed. Rising an hour early every day, I "red marked" the newspaper with suggestion after suggestion. Picture content. Picture selection. Picture use (size, what page, where on the page).
Captions. Even story selection and headline use. Anything. Everything. During this time the layout editors on the copy desk were going crazy wondering what this uppity staff photographer was doing with the big boss.
Feck and I were learning a lot about ways the Enquirer could be improved visually. After three months he asked me to continue critiquing for another two months. In the end Feck hired the Enquirer's first picture editor. I had hoped it would be me. It wasn't.
Lesson: As a staff photographer you can personally help bring about change at your newspaper. It might not always turn out the way you hoped. But, then, that's not the end of the world... or the end of my story either.
The following year I said goodbye to the Cincinnati Enquirer and hello to the newspaper back in my hometown of Charleston, W.Va., and to my first leadership/management job. I served as the Charleston Gazette's first graphics editor for three years, turning the paper around visually and having a lot of fun doing it. And then, when the Virginian-Pilot called, it was the beginning of a beautiful and amazing 17 years in Norfolk that would fulfill my wildest photojournalistic dreams.
38 YEARS ON THE JOB, 7 NEWSPAPERS, A QUICK LOOK
- The Morning Star, 18,000 circulation paper in Wilmington, N.C. My first newspaper. Sports writer. Shot my own pictures. Fired after nine months for calling my boss a bad name.
- The San Gabriel Valley Tribune, 60,000 circulation morning paper in West Covina, Calif., just east of Los Angeles. Sports writer. Wasn't allowed to shoot my own pictures. Fired after three months. Reason: something to do with spelling.
- The Progress-Bulletin, 40,000 circulation evening paper in Pomona, Calif. General assignment reporter. Shot my own pictures. Paper put up with my spelling. Didn't get fired. Worked there two years.
- The Los Angeles Times. Reporter/photographer one year in the San Fernando Valley zone section. Staff photographer three years in the San Gabriel Valley zone section. With the arrival of our first child, Millie and I decided to move to Ohio to be closer to our families in West Virginia.
- The Cincinnati Enquirer, 180,000 circulation morning paper. Reporter/photographer five years. Won national award for 20,000-word story on nuclear generated electrical power. Staff photographer six years. Named Ohio News Photographer of the Year in 1971.
- The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette, 58,000 circulation morning paper. Graphics editor three years. Redesigned the paper.
- The Virginian-Pilot (and originally, also The Ledger-Star), 200,000 circulation paper in Norfolk, Va., Worked there 17 years. Started as director of photography and later named assistant managing editor for graphics.