Some thirty years ago an advertisement ran in the Phoenix Business Gazette for a stringer. In journalism, a stringer is paid by the story and is often a position keyed for persons wanting to break into the field.
I immediately called an old newspaper man who was a family friend and told him about the job. “Wally,” I asked. “Knowing me, do you think that is something I could do?”
Wally chuckled, then got serious and said, “I have three questions to ask, Michael.”
“Shoot,” I said.
“Do you like the process of writing?”
”Yes,” I said, without hesitation.
“Can you sit for an extended period of time?”
“Usually all day,” I said
“The last question I know the answer to. Can you talk?” Chuckle. “From what I’ve seen you can do that pretty well and pretty long. So, Michael, yes, I would say without a doubt you can do that job.”
Wally, who'd worked for some big-name papers,The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette being one, continued with his reassurance saying that too many people shy away from writing because they complicate it believing there is some great mystery to the written word. Writing is just talking but on paper, he said
He repeated his three questions. And pushed me to apply for the job right away.
My day job then was as a bail investigator for the Superior Court of Maricopa County. That meant I spent 8 hours gathering histories on criminal defendants who were in jail and doing phone interviews with persons close to them, mostly from my desk. I’d write up my findings and recommend a bond, or a straight release, called own recognizance, to the judge who had requested the information.
The job was a busy one and I took great care in assembling concise reports, but once you got the hang of the stru
cture, every report was essentially the same. To offset monotony, I ‘d begun writing press releases and proclamations for my little department. I also created a newsletter for the Court.
The next day at work I took my lunch break and walked across the street to the Arizona Republic, the parent of the Business Gazette. I felt confident in my skill set given Wally’s encouragement.
I was passed through security to the third floor. There, in a very short interview by an aloof city editor I was told due to the fact that I had a full time job and couldn’t likely respond immediately to a sto
ry, I wasn’t a good candidate.
As he was about to have a staff member escort me back to security, I said boldly, “How about this, let me do a story and if you like it then great. If not, nothing lost.”
He nodded, gave me eye contact for the first time and said, “Well, if you have a story idea and if it is a fit and you can put it together, we’ll take it from there.”
Elated, I went back to my office, no story in mind, but mostly proud I’d pushed myself. That night at my Toastmaster Public Speaking Club, a fellow club member gave a speech on the need for the building trades to be licensed. He emphasized in his speech there had been no media coverage of this issue.
“Bingo.” I said to myself. My story,
I called the city editor the next da
y telling him about my story idea. His tone was warmer to me. He said,”Write it up and we’ll see.”
And so I did.
I made a great effort to get good sources, quoting persons who’d been scammed by unlicensed contr
actors. The following week the story ran on the front page, with my by-line. I was paid 30 dollars.
My neighbor, Tim. enlarged the by-line and story headline for me, as a memento. And so my life began as a real writer.
There is, of course, more to the story. I freelanced for several years thereafter, never quitting my day job. After relocating from Phoenix, I landed a job as a reporter for a small town daily newspaper in Branson Missouri.
Now, I have three novels on Amazon with two more due out. Although sales are not brisk, when asked why I write, it really comes down to what Wally said. I like the process, I can sit-long, and I have never had a problem talking. A fourth add-on to Wally’s three, is, I write for me and if someone gets something useful out of my stories that is a bonus.