Ancient history

Darn. Distracted by making music and shopping for a new car, I missed my own 50th anniversary! I missed two of them, actually.

Sometime in late May or early June, 1969, I skipped my graduation ceremony at the University of Connecticut, went to Hartford, applied for a job at the Hartford Courant, and started work the next day. That is amazing on so many levels.

I was reminded of that when a friend posted a note on Facebook saying that today was his “50 years today” Courant hiring anniversary. I don’t have a record of my own hire date, alas. (“If you can remember 1969, you weren’t there,” might be a good slogan.) I do remember the phone call from editor Bob Eddy, saying, “I talked to Professor Hill at UConn. You will start tomorrow at 2 p.m.; report to Mr. Reid MacCluggage on the state desk.”

But I do know the day the newspaper published a story with my name on it for the first time. I searched the Courant’s old Proquest online archive some years ago, collecting headlines and lead-sentences of my earliest stories, thinking they might amuse my students. I don’t think I ever actually used that lecture idea, but I still had a copy of the search file on my computer when I looked today.

The date of my first byline was July 2, 1969. The headline, on the local news page for the Willimantic area in Eastern Connecticut, was, “First Selectman Finds First Office Day Busy.” Obviously, no shouting of “Stop the presses!” was involved. But in retrospect, I thought it was a fine coincidence that my first day in the news office I would be writing about the chief executive of the town’s first day in office. I think he had been a barber previously.

(About 20 years later, when I started writing waterfront news for Soundings magazine, I made it a point to interview the new Harbormaster of Newport Rhode Island on my first reporting trip.)

Back in 1969, I had spent a few weeks as a copy editor on the Courant state desk before going to the Willimantic Bureau, where I wrote that story about the first selectman on assignment for interim bureau chief Bill Perez. Willimantic had the odd arrangement of being an incorporated city inside a town, in a state that had long before eliminated the county governments. So the city had a mayor, but the town had an old New England style executive board of three selectmen, headed by a first selectman.

Until July 1st, I don’t think I had ever heard of a “selectman.” So I my first interview question began, “Mr. Lariviere, let’s pretend that until today I had never heard of a first selectman…”

As a reminder of what newspapers were like in those days, the local-section page my story appeared on is listed in the archive as “page 58d.” The story was 391 words long. The first sentence was, “Windham First Selectman Eugene Lariviere is just getting settled in the first selectman’s office on the second floor of Town Hall.” Not a Pulitzer winner, and what a journalism professor might call a “soft lede,” but I remember being quite pleased that my story ran the way I wrote it, without much editing by Bill or the state desk at the other end of our teletype machine link. And I had a byline on my first day!

I stayed at the Hartford Courant for 11 years, and a couple of months ago finally started receiving retirement checks from the company that bought the company that bought the paper just before I “retired” in 1980.

Those retirement checks are helping pay for that new car I spent the month shopping for. I have always liked wrapping up a story with something I mentioned in the first paragraph.

mild-mannered reporter who sank into computers and the Web during graduate school in the 1980s and '90s, then taught journalism, media studies and Web production, retiring to write and play more music.

Posted in Journalism, Newspapers, personal, The Hartford Courant

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