I started as a reporter for my father’s daily newspaper in Sulphur Springs at age 16. The Daily News-Telegram was perhaps the smallest daily in Texas then and therefore a good place for me to learn to put words together into sentences and sentences together into paragraphs. I covered high school sports during the academic year and Little League games in summer, while interviewing the city manager in the morning and riding patrol with deputy sheriffs at night. Best of all, when the managing editor took his vacation, I convinced my dad to let me take over, laying out pages and editing all the copy. It was heaven, and I was still too young to vote!
My journalism training at the University of Kansas owed little to the classroom, but a lot to covering the campus during two academic years for the nearby Kansas City Star. Being its KU correspondent was at least a half-time job, one that paid enough to finance my last year of college. I helped the sports writers cover football and basketball games. But I was also there when students staged sit-ins and other controversies erupted. All in all, the Star was a wonderful introduction to big-city newspapers for a young man anxious to get out of school and get on with things.
The Dallas Times Herald did an outstanding job of covering the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. I was lucky to be an intern at the paper two summers afterward, before my senior year in college. But the lessons I learned there were not all uplifting. For example, the editorial excellence it displayed in November of 1963 didn’t extend to coverage of its advertisers, to whom it pandered. Still, I came to work at 6:30 every morning ready to have some fun, and often enough, I did.
The Tribune was the establishment voice, but the Chicago Sun-Times, its morning competitor, was in many respects the best of the four dailies in that town, and the perfect place for a kid like me to learn how to compete in the big leagues. It had the hungriest and most talented staff of reporters, and the editors who knew how to deploy them. We were every bit the Trib’s equal in quality, and could even imagine (in some distant time) overtaking the Other Paper in circulation.