The write stuff

A line popped out at me in an opinion piece I was reading yesterday: there are 4,350 journalists working in Ontario. In a province of 14 million, that number is so minuscule I can’t even determine what it is as a percentage of the total population. There must be more people cleaning windows right now than there are researching and writing newspaper articles.
My writing career began in 1960 with the simple act of putting up my hand. As a member of the Athletic Council at John F. Ross Collegiate in Guelph, Ont., I was attending a regular meeting led by J.R. “Jiggs” Morrison, the science teacher, so we were all perched on stools at his lab desks. The agenda was mostly uninteresting until he said, “The Guelph Mercury is looking for someone to write a weekly high school news column.” My hand shot up automatically, like it wasn’t part of my body, as if it hadn’t even been activated by my brain. “OK, Rod, the job’s yours. Get in touch with Peter Marucci at the paper.”
My conversation with Marucci, the city editor, was equally brief. The column should be typed and double spaced, was due Monday mornings, and they would pay me nine-and-half-cents a column inch. When I got home, I measured one inch in that day’s paper. It was about twenty-five words. Not that it mattered. At that point I didn’t even know what I was going to say.
I began by typing my column at 9 p.m. on a Sunday night. I was already demonstrating one of the worst habits of journalists. I waited until just before the deadline to begin.
On Wednesday, there it all was in the evening newspaper, just as I had sent it. Nobody had altered a word. I had written forty inches. I got a cheque in the mail for $3.80 – enough to take my then girlfriend to the movies on Friday night and go after to the Treanon restaurant for cherry Cokes, chips and gravy. What was wrong with that? I was hooked.
With the demise in the years since of so many newspapers, if I were in high school today, I would not likely be able to launch a similar career of writing books and articles as the one that I enjoyed. This unfortunate situation will only be exacerbated by ChatGPT, the mean machine that will eventually replace many of the few remaining journalists. You’ll miss us when we’re gone.



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