Why I decided to become an ink-stained wretch
“Hail the ink-stained wretches
The reporters, the tireless tradesmen
who claw at the TRUTH buried under the soundbite”
— poem, The Dallas Morning News
I’ve always wanted to be a writer.
I remember October in third grade, when my class was assigned to write a short story about a scarecrow. We made construction-paper scarecrows and a single, letter-sized sheet of paper was affixed to its belly. That’s where the story was supposed to go.
My classmates handled the assignment no problem, but I wrote so much several pages had be taped together, spilling down my construction-paper scarecrow’s belly to the floor.
No matter what I wanted to be when I grew up — archaeologist after watching an Indiana Jones movie, paleontologist after watching “Jurassic Park,” oceanographer after watching “Shark Week” — I always said I also wanted to write about my work. I had a collection of National Geographic Magazines and dreamed of seeing my name in them.
Early on, I don’t think I ever thought about journalism as a career by itself, though many of my heroes were journalists: Clark Kent. Peter Parker.
And newspapers had always been a part of my life.
We were poor, so going to the movies was a rare and thrilling treat, the excitement building every time Mom walked up to the Marathon station on the corner to buy the Sunday paper so we could peruse the showtimes.
I remember loving the feel and look of newspapers when we picked through them during Newspapers in Education projects in my class.
And, during summers with my grandparents in South Carolina, my brother and I would walk every morning with Grandpa to the blackberry bush at the end of their yard. We’d pick a bowlful, grab the newspaper from the box by the road, and carry everything back to Grandma. She’d cut up the berries on our Food Lion frosted flakes, or mix them up alone with milk and sugar. We’d all breakfast together, Grandma reading the news or clipping coupons, Grandpa at the sports, and my brother and I reading the funnies or trying to do the puzzles.
At that time, I wanted to write, but I wanted to be an adventurer, digging up dinosaurs in Peru or biblical artifacts in Jordan or diving the Great Barrier Reef.
I didn’t want to be a journalist if I couldn’t take off my glasses sometimes and fly into danger.
And then, sometime around middle school, I saw “All the President’s Men” for the first time, and realized I could do both.
Robert Redford’s and Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein showed me you could write and be a detective, that you could write and right wrongs, that you could write and make a difference in the world.
Then Hemingway showed me people would pay you to write about your own adventures, if you did it well. Hunter S. Thompson and Norman Mailer taught me you could write and be culturally significant.
And I’ve felt like a kid in a candy store since Mac McCullough, then executive editor of the Battle Creek Enquirer, took a chance on me and hired me off the front desk of a local Comfort Inn to try my hand at this journalism thing.
It’s the best gig in the world.
Right now, no matter how they feel, politically, about the budget fight in Lansing or the impeachment inquiry in Washington, the true journalists — not pundits — covering those events are feeling a bit of glee, because they know they’re on the front lines of history.
And that’s what makes this job worth all the long hours, the grunt work, the missed family appointments, the weight gain from too much time behind a desk, the coffee addiction.
Sunday starts National Newspaper Week in America.
Maybe you’ll celebrate by reflecting on the time your granddaughter made the front page of the sports section for an amazing dig in volleyball, or the time your grandson made the Lifestyles page for making the dean’s list at Michigan State University.
Maybe you’ll appreciate all those times you walked into the voting both with a newspaper tucked under your arm, knowing you’d cast your ballot as an informed voter.
But, for me and my fellow ink-stained wretches, we’re celebrating because newspapers actually pay us to have the adventures we’ve always wanted to have.
Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-358-5686 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.