My First Six Months Working for a Local Newspaper
In the first six months working for a newspaper, I wrote about a hundred articles but none of them were published and you will see why I was still delighted and grateful for the whole experience.
The following is a story of how it all happened.
This was in 1983 and I was studying in 8th Standard (equivalent of 8th grade here in the United States) at Madikeri, Coorg in Karnataka, India. Three and a half years and 160 rejections later, my first book (a novel) was published by a well-known publisher. That milestone event got me a lot of publicity.
One such outcome of that publication was that it was noticed by two very caring media people — Rajendra and Suresh from a local evening daily called “Parakrama.” A few discussions ensued and I was offered a position to work at their newspaper (part time, of course)
Stepping Stone 1
The first few days I was asked to read the newspapers of the last few weeks and identify what stories I liked and why. There would be discussions about why I liked what I liked. I used to learn a lot from those discussions. The big learning was how to actually dissect a story.
Stepping Stone 2
The next step seemed to be very mundane. My goal was to go to the Fort close by (where the press office was located) and collect the news from Press Trust of India (PTI). The bulletins used to come in via Telex and the transmission was not always clear. Sometimes the lines would repeat and sometimes the lines would skip and some other times the transmission would just pause for 15 minutes. I would collect the pieces of paper and come back and stitch together a story and pass it along to a senior reporter. It was not strategic but it taught me important lessons — Patience and Discipline.
Stepping Stone 3
The journey to becoming a journalist began with one of the two mentors asking me to cover a story. It seemed rather easy and it was like writing a project report. I attended the event and wrote up a story. The assumption was that it would be published in the next day’s paper. Little did I know that it was not THAT easy. It seemed like all they wanted was to cover the story in about 150 words and I had written close to 800 words. One of the editors explained that I should rewrite the story in less than 150 words. I made the attempt to get it to about 220 words but we had passed the deadline so the editor had written his own version of the story to get it done.
I won’t go into all the details but the next four months none of my articles were published although I rewrote them (sometimes four to five times) but for one reason or the other the articles never got published. I used to feel upset sometimes but I was so busy to even get upset. I had to cover that, write an article on this and rewrite something and rewrite the same thing again. And again. So where is the time to get upset?
The Breakthrough, and…
Then one day, like magic one of my articles got published. I couldn’t just believe it and that day I took home a dozen copies of the same newspaper. That was totally awesome to see my article in the evening daily.
Next day, one of my mentors and the sub-editor of the paper, Rajendra called me to have a 1-1 meeting. I thought it was one of those meetings where I will be asked to rewrite something and I was ready for it. Rajendra had a different topic to discuss in the meeting. He said and I am paraphrasing, “Rajesh, it’s been about six months since you joined us. While I was impressed by your ability to write a novel at a young age of thirteen, your press articles sucked. They didn’t need an update, they needed surgeries to get them to a shape and we didn’t have the time to do it. However, I must say I am very impressed that you would go all the way and keep rewriting those articles several times to make them better. You still have a LONG way to go but all your hard work has paid off. You are now writing in a style that somebody can read without falling asleep.”
I was shocked on one end but also was very grateful for Rajendra and Suresh for having taken the time to coach and guide me for the last six months. Rajendra handed me a file — a thick file with all my articles that I had submitted so far with notes from Rajendra and Suresh on what needed to be improved in each of those articles.
“Wow..” was all I could think.
I was touched AND moved!
I was a student in a school all right but this was what was the REAL education. I just closed my eyes and saw through the mind’s eye the entire six month journey and the collaboration (that resulted in zero articles being published) that took place, the education that was handed to me in a very personal but non-threatening way AND the gift that God brought to me in the form of two caring and thoughtful mentors.
To say that I was transformed would be an understatement. All I can say is that I am forever grateful to Rajendra and Suresh for their invaluable gift that has helped me in every walk of my life.
1. Generosity is priceless:
My early mentors Rajendra and Suresh spent close to six months educating me and laying the foundation for me to open a new space of possibilities. What they did was priceless. I have tried my best to pay it forward but to fully pay it forward, it will take me my entire lifetime.
2. Patience is invaluable
I mentioned that I wrote around 100 “unpublished” articles over a span of six months. If I add all the rewrites, the count is over 400. It seems like a lot of work for me but it was a LOT more work for both Rajendra and Suresh to read and comment with tremendous patience. If they didn’t have that patience, I wouldn’t have grown to be the person I am.
3. Lifelong learning is NOT optional
I have been writing since I was ten and publishing since I was thirteen. But if you ask me where do I need education most, it is in how to write. The more I get help from my mentors and coaches, the more I realize that I need to learn a lot more. I realized the need for learning in the first six months working for the newspaper and the thirst has never gone away. That attitude is what keeps me humble, up and awake every single day.