BY SUZANNE ASHE
All children have heroes. Sometimes those heroes live on space stations, other heroes put out fires or play ball. My heroes brought down a United States President. As a child, my heroes were Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post journalists who broke the Watergate Scandal and wrote their way into the history books.
I met Bob Woodward on a flight once from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I told him I was a budding journalist. I wished I could remember what words of wisdom he imparted at 30,000 feet, I was so nervous.
My claim to fame in the 1970s was as the co-editor of a locally produced (in my best-friend’s dining room) and hand-distributed neighborhood crier called Bulletin Board. My friend Lisa and I would interview folks in our Livermore, California subdivision and then craft stories for publication. But our genius wasn’t appreciated. We had no advertising base, no corporate angel or hedge fund to keep us afloat, and babysitting paid better than subscription fees.
I wasn’t published again until I joined the staff of the high school newspaper. But there were so many other distractions in high school such as (boys) math class, (boys) drama, (boys) reading Catcher in the Rye and being hurtled into vortex of an existential crisis. And sitting on couches with my girlfriends swapping beauty tips and talking about boys.
By the time I had scribed countless volumes of journals about daily life, my family’s numerous adventures and my own successes and failures, I decided to “give this writing thing a go.”
I enrolled in College of San Mateo declaring Journalism as my major. Our small staff of writers, reporters and editors took on the administration, covered events small and large, (I still remember my favorite lede “Blood flowed in the South Cafeteria, much to the delight of health officials,” a story about the annual blood drive on campus written by classmate Ray.)
Each production night was an all-night affair with pizza and Pepsi, sometimes someone would smuggle in an adult beverage, and we set about the task of laying out the San Matean.
With the scent of hot wax and photo-developing chemicals permeating the air, we took long, thin typed galleys and adhered them to each page, often chopping off the bottom of the story if it ran too long for the space. We crafted brilliant headlines and photo captions and secured it all above the few adverts from companies brave enough to hawk their wares in a college paper.
Despite frequent disagreements and rather rough copy, we were always able to make our deadline and have the proofs into the printer by 7 a.m. We’d go home for some much-deserved rest, only to return after the paper was out to see that our professor had edited the entire issue in red ink and posted in his office window for all the staff to see. Sometimes it looked like he had sacrificed a chicken on the newsprint.
Our advisor, Ed, was an old-school journalist himself. He taught us to always check our facts (“If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”) He taught us to always have noble intentions (“Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”) And he taught us it was the responsibility of the fourth estate. And also the importance of the First Amendment. To that end we were heroes to the student body and the bane of the administration who wanted our advisor to edit his students’ work. He steadfastly refused.
I carried my commitment to the craft when I transferred to San Francisco State. Here I learned that all of my fellow journalism students had a different hero, Hunter S. Thompson, the father of Gonzo journalism.
When I left school, I had coffee, red wine, green bud (I had a prescription for carpal tunnel at the time). I also had reporter notebooks, a tape recorder, a Pentax film camera, a pager and a really, really expensive Apple laptop. I was ready to take on the world.
For years I championed the underdog and instructed readers what to buy and what to avoid, in a whirlwind of news reporting and product reviews. Whether it was reviewing the latest video game for Wired magazine, reviewing cars for CNET, covering a murder trial for a community paper or photographing a Little League game, I’ve always enjoyed telling a story.
A few years into my career, print newspapers and magazines died off like houseflies at the end of summer – their little corpses all collected up in the windowsills. While dot coms popped up like dandelions in the spring. I reinvented myself and reinvented myself, but always told a good story.
“There are no second acts in American lives,” said F. Scott Fitzgerald. And I’m hoping that’s not true.
I’m in my fifth year in Alaska, having spent time in Petersburg and Eagle River before coming to Skagway. I will continue to explore my new state and hunt for new adventures and the stories they will bring. And I look forward to all of the stories to come.
Hi Skagway, it’s me, Suzanne Ashe
BY SUZANNE ASHE