During my last semester in college, I began the ritual of applying for jobs.
To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing. I knew very little about the process – what to put in a cover letter or resume or what to say in an interview. I tried to avail myself of the college’s resources, but the placement director at the time repeatedly, and in insulting ways, blew me off.
Because my spring break would take me to the Phoenix area, I applied to every paper I could find in the Editor & Publisher Yearbook. The huge tome lists everything from circulation figures to how many computer screens were in the newsroom. Only paperclips weren’t counted.
One paper I applied to was called The Mesa Tribune. It had two sister newspapers, then known as The Chandler Arizonan and The Tempe Daily News.
I also applied to the Scottsdale Progress, which was looking for a reporter. (It was posted on a job board in the school hallway.) Before leaving on the trip, only the Progress returned my query, inviting me for a job interview.
When I arrived in Arizona, the Progress changed its mind, canceling the interview. Nervous and feeling desperate, I called up the other papers. The Arizona Republic and now defunct Phoenix Gazette had no idea why I was calling. I presume, my resume and cover letter were promptly discarded after delivery.
After leaving a message with an operator at the Tribune, I lost hope of having any job interviews. Later that day, my family came back to the hotel to find a message for me: Call the Tribune news editor after 3 p.m.
Because this is before most of us had iPhones, I had to make the call from a barely functioning pay phone on a busy street. The news editor told me that there were no reporting positions, but to come in for a copy editing test. I also was asked to perform a post mortem on the three newspapers.
I survived my first interview, then went home to finish up college and apply to more local jobs. No word at all from the Tribune. I didn’t know I was supposed to send a thank you note.
Because I had my apartment until the end of summer – that’s how Bloomington, Indiana, leases worked – I figured I’d hang around town before heading back home to the Chicago suburbs.
Instead, I received a call from the editor I interviewed with. “Do you want a job?”
“It’s not a reporting job. Are you okay with that?”
“Um, sure.” I’d take anything at that point.
“Be out here in two weeks.”
That was about it. The editor told me I could stay at his house for a day or two until I found a place to live.
Before leaving town, I talked to my journalism placement director. She was mad at me. “How did you get that job?”
I told her my story.
“You have no right. That job could have gone to someone who deserved it.”
Apparently, the placement director had never heard of Mesa either.
I drove up to the Chicago suburbs to get my childhood bed and a few things, like an ancient 100-pound, tube-based “portable” TV.
The drive itself was quite the adventure when you consider that the gas gauge didn’t work in my pimpmobile. I mean my red Monte Carlo. But that’s another story.
During my 11 years in Mesa, I loved The Tribune. The deadline panic. The incredibly funny crew. The deteriorating facilities. The constantly changing politics and corporate-induced headaches.
Sometimes, the paper struggled. In the late 80s, both my immediate supervisors were let go the same day. By the next morning, I found myself unofficially sharing management roles with a colleague.
Most of the time, the paper grew: we started the Gilbert Tribune and bought the Scottsdale Progress, sweet revenge for not getting that job interview.
Always, the paper strove hard against The Arizona Republic. We took wild chances. We busted our butts to break news first.
But times change. I left when the paper was sold to another chain. I was interested in new opportunities and challenges.
Soon, the newspaper was renamed the East Valley Tribune. Earlier this year, the paper laid off a huge chunk of its staff – many my former colleagues – cut circulation days and shrunk the once proud paper into a tabloid. The Scottsdale edition was shuttered. The Tribune also won a Pulitzer this year.
This week I learned that the East Valley Tribune will be closed at year’s end. Freedom Communications, which bought the newspaper a few years back, is in bankruptcy these days and was unable to find a suitable buyer.
I salute those who still work and formerly worked at the Tribune. An amazing amount of energy and hard work went on in that red brick building. I learned so much there.
The East Valley Tribune will be missed. For those who understand: I toast the Trib with a plastic cup of Jägermeister in the front driveway.