What mike does, page 2

 
 

All Grown Up (Almost)

    In late August of 1957, Mom and Dad drove me to Dallas to enroll in Southern Methodist University (SMU) as a freshman.  We travelled the 13-hour trip in my folks’ new Studebaker (as my Dad’s friends used to tell him, “Allan, driving that new zippy car, I can’t tell whether you’re coming or going.”).   I had to leave my beloved 1939 Ford Coupe (with the hopped-up engine) behind.  Oh, well, it didn’t matter if I didn’t have a car.  Dad told me that he didn’t have a car in college until his junior year.  And most kids didn’t have a car when they graduated. 

    He failed to point out that he went to college during the Great Depression.

What works, works

    I went to SMU because I wanted to go to the University of Texas (at Austin) and my Dad said, “Okay, son.  Where ever you want to go.  We’ll see.”  Dads are like that, I later found out as I raised my own kids.

    I wanted to go to UT because its student newspaper was a daily.  At little SMU, the student newspaper was published just twice a week.  And I, by damn, was going to be editor of my school’s newspaper!  Which, frankly, was the only reason I wanted to go to college.

    Although UT had a daily college newspaper, Austin only had one daily newspaper.  And the Austin American-Statesman was not about to hire a college freshman.  But, Dallas had two newspapers and Allan Engleman had a friend at the afternoon newspaper, The Dallas Times-Herald.

    So, I got a part-time job (actually, a series of them) at the Times-Herald.  I also got a job in the SMU cafeteria for free food.  I also got a job as a reporter for the SMU Campus, the SMU student newspaper, for love.  I also found a mail-order company that sold ties for a buck apiece.  I would buy them (minimum order was 50) and sell them in the boys’ dorms for two bucks on Friday and Saturday nights.

    Thanks to what I learned from Tim Duarte, my first three years at SMU were filled with part-time, money-paying jobs.  Writing copy for a small advertising agency.  Giving away little packages of Tarellton cigarettes.  Covering high-school football for a neighborhood newspaper, the Oak Cliff Tribune.  Of course, much of my time was spent at the SMU Campus, where I was gaining a reputation as a hard-charger.

    I also took the time and the money to pledge the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity--one of the best decisions I made during my college years.

* * *

    Looking back at those first three years, I have concluded that what I learned during that period of my life from being on campus with kids much more sophisticated than I (50%), being around Real Newspapermen at the Times-Herald (40%) and being in the classroom (10%) was based on the amount of time I spent on each endeavor.

    At the end of my junior year, I was elected editor of the SMU Campus in a school-wide election.  A week or two later, during an all-school assembly, I was selected to be a member (a “Knight”) of Cycen Fjdor, a secret society comprised of the “top ten senior men on campus.”  I was rolling!

A Big-Shot Editor...and Husband!

    During the summer between my junior and senior years, I married Linda Redd, a feisty, little dark-haired Tennessee girl, with whom I had been “pinned” for most of my junior year.

    During my senior year (Linda’s junior year) we proved that, indeed, two can live as cheaply as one.  As the Big Shot Editor-in-Chief of the SMU Campus, I was paid $87 a month.  Because going to class (occasionally) and working on the SMU Campus took most of my time, I gave up all of my part-time jobs, except (of course) my work at the Times-Herald.

* * *

    I was your typical, know-it-all, Editor-in-Chief of the World, college newspaper editor.  In fact I was so out-spoken (outrageous?) that the SMU Campus made the two Dallas daily newspapers’ news columns two or three times. 

   Once was as the result of a bold-face editorial on my newspaper’s front page.  Well...it was a mean, negative editorial endorsing a candidate for President of the United States.  Well...it was the first time in the history of the SMU Campus, that the newspaper had picked sides in the national presidential election.  Well...it appeared in the SMU Campus on day that Teddy Kennedy came to the SMU to speak to the Young Democrats’ club.  Well...Teddy and I engaged in a public “discussion” during the meeting because the newspaper’s nasty editorial endorsed Nixon over Kennedy.

    During that year, I had a number of talks with the President of SMU, the late and extremely patient, Willis Tate.  Our talks would always begin with him saying to me, “Mike, how could you have done that to the University?”

* * *

    Near the end of my year (1961) as Editor of the SMU Campus, we entered it in a contest sponsored by the Associated College Press, the only umbrella journalistic organization for college newspapers in the U. S.  Our category was “College or University (4-year), 2-3 times weekly (all enrollments).”  So we were going against any four-year college of any size that did not have a daily newspaper.

    The bundle of copies of our newspaper was reviewed and graded.  Ratings of newspapers that went through this process were All-American, First Class, Second Class and Third Class.

    The SMU Campus was rated All-American, scoring 3570 points out of a possible 3700 points.  The University of Texas daily was rated First Class.

    The night after we had received the certificate and grading booklet, the 15 or so of us who were the paper’s staff gathered in our office, got in a couple of cars, drove to Gordo’s--our no-ID little bar--and got beer-smashed!

* * *

    As you may have guessed, I was always a marginal classroom student (pupil?).  But I did graduate in four years.  With a bare “C” average (2.27 on a 4-point scale).  I vividly remember accepting my degree from President Tate and him uttering to me, “Thank God, Mike, you made it!” 

    Indeed, I did make it!  The Managing Editor of the Times-Herald offered me a job as a reporter, only one of two greenies to be hired.  And he told me that, because of my vast experience at my Dad’s newspaper, the SMU Campus and the Times-Herald, I was not to be paid the slave-wages the paper normally offered cub reporters.  I was to be paid the glorious salary of $78.50 a week. 

    I later learned that the other cub reporter was only being paid a measly $75 a week.

First Time for Everything

    I stayed with the Times-Herald for a couple of years and had a ball working for our magnificent city editor, Bob (Holly) Hollingsworth, who gave me all the rope I could handle to develop myself into a Real Newspaperman.  Or, to hang myself.

    I left the Times-Herald for the Associated Press (more money).  I left the AP for a small newspaper in Oklahoma (more money).  I left the Oklahoma newspaper to become the assistant managing editor of the Denton (Texas) Record Chronicle (more money).  I was promoted to managing editor and, during my second year as ME of the newspaper, the Record-Chronicle was named the best newspaper in its circulation size in Texas by the Texas Associated Press Managing Editor’s Association.

    Within a month after the award was announced, I left the Record-Chronicle.  All I did was tell the newspaper’s sour, old publisher (owner) the truth.  And the truth was that he didn’t know #*&%$@#$ about news.  My truth-telling was followed by the phrase, “%*$%@&, Engleman, you’re fired.”

On To The Big Time!

    I got an interview with Dick West, the Editor of the Dallas Morning News editorial page.  He had an opening for someone to write unsigned editorials and an editorial page column.  I have no memory about how I found out about the job opening. 

    We spent about an hour together, talking newspapers.  A really nice guy, I thought.  I had given him samples of my writing, but none of them were opinion pieces.  He asked me to write him three opinion columns so he could evaluate my opinion-writing skills.  He told me to “just drop them into the mail” and he’d get back to me.

     “Drop them in the mail” be damned!  I spent the next day writing the three columns he had requested.  And, late that afternoon, drove to downtown Dallas and handed them to Dick’s secretary.

    For some reason that I could not explain then and I cannot explain now, I picked the Texas death penalty as the subject of those three columns.  As an avid reader of the Dallas News since my college days, I knew that the official editorial policy of the newspaper was to support the death penalty. 

    My three sample columns were in opposition to the death penalty.  Citing “Thou shall not kill” and calling Texas death penalty legislation “Legalized Murder,” I protested that a more severe sentence would be life in prison with no chance of parole.     

    Why did I take a position opposite that of the place where I wanted a job?  I have no idea.  I guess that’s the way I am.  Maybe my gut told me that Dick liked renegades.

    Sometime later, I got a phone call from Dick’s secretary inviting me to “drop by.”  Which I eagerly did. 

    The first question he had for me at our meeting was, “Did you know our policy on the death penalty when you wrote this stuff?”

    I answered, “Yes, sir, I did.”

    “So you knew that we support the death penalty and you wrote three pieces opposing it.  Any idea why?”

    I have no idea what I told Dick.  I suppose I told him that if I thought well enough and wrote well enough to change his mind, I’d get the job.  But, I have no memory of my answer to his question.  Back in my days on the police beat at the Times-Herald, I learned that witnesses to violence have no reliable memory because of the panic they felt as they witnessed what the police were now asking them to describe.   

    Dick leaned back in his chair and chuckled.  Well, Dick’s chuckle wasn’t really like a chuckle.  It was more like a yuck, yuck.

    And I do remember him telling me that I “damn near” had convinced him that the death penalty was the wrong idea, but I had not totally convinced him because he was not the publisher of the newspaper and he liked his job.

    Then he offered me a job.

Great Bosses

    I’ve had two really joyous jobs in my life.  The first one was at the Times-Herald, after Holly moved me off of the police beat (boring) and told me to go out there and find my own stories, and the other was working for Dick West.

    There were three of us writers in the department, plus Dick and an assistant page editor, whose name (sadly) I can’t remember.  Dick and our assistant page editor were “old guys”--probably in their fifties.  The three of us writers were fairly young, mid-twenties to early thirties.

    Most of the writing load fell on the shoulders of us three “boys,” as Dick called us.  Which we didn’t mind.  We had plenty of opinions to write about.

    And, most of the time, Dick allowed us to write about what we wanted to write about.  We’d have a brief planning meeting each morning at nine.  We’d talk about the next morning’s page and what contributions we’d write (today) for it (tomorrow morning).  Dick would throw out subjects that he thought would be interesting to our readers.  If one of us wanted to write about it, we’d tell him.  If we didn’t want to write about it, we’d keep our mouths shut.

    During the time I worked for Dick, I cannot remember him ever giving any of us an order. 

    I remember one morning meeting during which we discussed the newspaper’s endorsements of candidates for a national election.  The endorsements were made in unsigned editorials, which spoke for the Dallas Morning News.  Writing these pieces was not like writing a column which had your name and a little head-shot sketch on in.

    Back in those days, the Dallas Morning News was a”conservative Democrat” newspaper.  Those were the days when there were some politically conservative politicians still left in the Democrat Party.  The three of us “boys” were all Republicans.

    So Dick started off by asking who wanted to do the endorsement editorial in the Senate race of Blab versus Lie.  There was silence around the conference table.  So Dick said, “Okay, I’ll write that one.”  He went down the entire ballot, got not one single volunteer to write any endorsement and ended up writing them all himself.

    Dick was the damn boss.  The editorials were unsigned, so no one would ever know that any of them were written by one of us “boys.”  Dick could have said, “Come on, boys, give me a hand here,” or he could have ordered each of us to write the such and so endorsement editorial.  But he did not.

    A great guy and a magnificent boss.


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