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Jeff Klinkenberg's farewell piece in the Times

4

November

You read it in Floridian in Sunday's paper?

When I started at the Miami News in 1966, I remember that reporters typed their stories with two fingers on cheap paper. If they needed to move paragraphs around, they did so with scissors and glue. They impaled finished stories on metal spikes for a psychopathic editor who forbade talking until sunrise.

The few female reporters wrote for the "women's section." I remember only one reporter of color. Everybody seemed destined for lung cancer; occasionally a wastepaper basket burst into flame from hot ash.

I remember reporters who kept whisky bottles in desk drawers and editors who punched writers who whined one too many times about changes to their precious copy. All-night poker games erupted Fridays at midnight in the news library.

Sometimes, late at night, the paper's star reporter ambled majestically through the newsroom, on his arm a buxom dame said to be a stripper who went by the name Helen Bed. Or was it Elza Poppin? He drove an XKE convertible and was probably the most foul-mouthed reporter I've ever known.

I was barely 17. I wanted to be him. There could be no more romantic business than this.

At night, high school basketball coaches telephoned, and I'd jot down their scores and highlights. About 11 I'd start writing about the most interesting game.

The next day at lunch, I'd trot across the street from my high school, Miami Edison, and buy a paper from the machine near Mike's Diner. Hands shaking, I'd search for my byline in the back pages near the truss ads.

It was always a thrill if a sentence I had written actually made it into the paper. My editors called me "The Kid," which meant that I was green around the collar and wet behind the ears and prone to write prose full of cliches. By the time my editors were finished removing cliches and clunky sentences, not much was left of my own work.

That's how you learned back in those days. Editors weren't New Age college-educated softies afraid of damaging the rookie's self-esteem. They specialized in terrifying the new boy. If you couldn't deal with it, you went to college and studied something easier, like medicine. It was the school of hard knocks.

Editor, remove that cliche.

Keep reading.

[Last modified: Tuesday, November 4, 2014 2:02pm]

    

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