By Jack H. Smith
Ledger Publisher 

Column: 400 words on the dump.


September 20, 2017

While I was attending the University of Wyoming, I was waiting tables to help pay for school and expenses, and it was getting really old.

While it certainly not the worst job I’ve had, my nerves were getting fried by people who were downright mean, would come in three minutes before closing, or would try to do everything they could to get a free meal. I get that a steak can be cooked wrong, but when you eat three-quarters of it before telling me it was medium instead of medium rare, than you are probably up to something.

I was looking through the local newspaper one morning when I saw a help wanted ad for a reporter at the local daily newspaper. I had already had taken a lot of journalism courses and had written for two college papers, so I thought this would be a great way to not only get a head start on what I want to do for a living, I could also come home from work and not smell like Mexican food or not having to pay for everything with dollars bills like I was an exotic dancer.

I applied for the job and was pleasantly surprised when I got the interview, which I obviously did a good job at because I was offered the job the following day. Or maybe I was the only person to apply.

I was scared as can be before my first day and really had no idea what to expect. I had seen so many movies and television shows where a newsroom looked like an incredible beehive of activity with larger than life characters, and someone always screaming “stop the press”.

I was a bit disappointed when I walked up the stairs to the newsroom and it was quiet as can be. I was also a little bummed that my computer looked like it was about 15 years old and was not connected to the internet.

After a few minutes at my desk, I was told there was a staff meeting and I was super excited to get my first assignment from the managing editor. My mind raced about all the endless possibilities of what I would be writing about. Corruption in town hall? A teacher having an affair with a student? I would find out it would be nothing this exciting. Not even close. The managing editor told me that my first assignment would be to cover a Solid Waste Board meeting. At this point, I wasn’t even sure what that was, but I went at 7 p.m. and it ended at 8:30 p.m. When I got back to the office I was rushed to my desk and told I had a 9 p.m. deadline to write around a 400-word story. When I worked for the college paper, I would have a week or so to write a story. I didn’t think it would be possible to get a story done that long in 30 minutes.

I did my best and somehow crafted a 400-word story about problems at the local dump. I was so proud of myself and was sure the publisher, managing editor, and copy editor would love it. Boy was I wrong. The managing editor printed it out, walked over to me and ripped it up. I then had to sit with him and watch him go through it line by line and absolutely destroy me. I felt awful, but it was the best thing that could ever happen. I would spend time with him everyday and soon figured out what I was doing. There was a point I wanted to quit and figure out what the next step would be in my life, but I’m glad I stuck around. I learned so much in my first year at a daily newspaper. Many of those lessons I still use today. I can still remember starting a story “The Rock Springs City Council held a meeting last night”. My boss not only said that was the most boring thing he has seen in 30 years in the business, he also screamed that you can’t hold a meeting. “You can’t put the entire Council in your hands and hold them. You conduct a meeting,” he informed me.

I was once a scared guy that didn’t think he could write a 400 word story in 30 minutes, now I have written as many as 15 in a day. There are days it gets a little overwhelming, but hey, at least I don’t smell like a burrito anymore.


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