My first job out of college was at the Courier News, then a 40,000-circulation daily newspaper covering central New Jersey. In a work history rife with nametags and “How may I help you?,” it remains the worst job I’ve ever had. I’d write multiple stories a day as part of a skeleton crew covering sprawling Hunterdon County, toiling through nights and weekends, scarfing down greasy lunches in plastic containers, failing to convince myself that my work had any impact.
I endured from June 2000 to July 2001, an era when newspapers began their prolonged, job-killing slide from indispensable daily reference to an indispensable daily relic. The publisher’s strategy to stay relevant in the internet age involved more projects for an already-overtaxed, ever-dwindling staff. Faced with mounting deadlines and responsibilities, I began the lengthy, inevitable process of burying myself alive. I willed the days to stand still; they rarely complied. With every blurt of the police scanner, each court case involving children exposed to unspeakable horrors, I bungled facts and misspelled names. My editors, who were too busy drowning, threw me a rubber duck and called it a life preserver: They had me write out my questions for each story beforehand and fax the list to them for approval.