TYPEWRITERS ARE traded for word processors and “wealthy” mutates into “upscale,” but the image of the reporter as a hard-drinking, fast-living rogue hangs on like a bad credit rating. Even in the Age of Perrier, he or she slouches through the public mind like some bottle-happy scribe straight off The Front Page.
Of course, not all journalists deserve such bad press. Many Dallas reporters wouldn’t be caught dead hobnobbing at a notorious gin mill like Joe Miller’s. They pay their bills on time and go home to fight the crab grass in the evenings. Many take meticulous care with their wardrobe. Many realize that alcohol, after all, is bad for you. Well, not many, but some. At least a few. But even those clean-living few are tarred with the same brush (or included on the same tab) as the rogues.
Why should hell-raising be rampant in journalism and almost unheard of in other fields? Nobody expects computer programmers and CPAs to sacrifice their livers or keep outrageous hours. Perhaps many writers feel some kind of duty to live out the reporter role in deference to the past, like Hank Williams Jr: “When I get stoned, I’m just carry in’ on an old family tradition.”
But enough of reasons; let’s get on to some rollicking stories about the people who (somehow) bring you the news. We can’t swear for the veracity of some of these stories, which have been told and retold so often they have taken on an epic, “tall-tale” quality. And the protagonists of these little dramas will remain anonymous- despite their requests. No free publicity around here.
Tell Me How Long the Amtrak’s Been Gone. Several years ago, a News reporter accepted a free ride on the inaugural run of Texas’ Amtrak. This rolling media event stopped overnight in Laredo before proceeding to Austin and other Texas cities. While some reporters worked on their stories, our rogue wandered across the border to Nuevo Laredo and its infamous Boys’ Town, seeking the illicit sweets of the flesh. Imagine his surprise when he awoke the next morning with head pounding and wallet lighter, to find the Amtrak gone! In a panic, he chartered a single-engine plane for Austin, only to miss the train again in the capital city. There followed numerous expensive taxi rides before the exhausted reporter caught up with the Amtrak on its return swing to Dallas. Total cost of the “free” trip: $1,500.
Clean, Well-Polished Prose. A night desk editor for the Herald was known tor his sharp temper and unusual editing style: He couldn’t read copy without several belts of booze inside him. Feeling no pain one night, he decided he had read enough murky work from cub reporters. Seizing a bottle of Windex, he set about polishing the screens of the video terminals, repeating in a loud, singsong voice: “We need cleaner copy around here.” He and the Herald soon parted company.
I Said Go West, Young Man. Not all eccentric behavior of Dallas journalists can be blamed on alcohol. One News reporter, dispatched to El Paso on a hot tip, arrived to find that his story had become a non-story, the major source having skipped town. Disappointed, the reporter flew back to Dallas and drove straight to the office to report his failure. His editor glared at him.
“Thought you were supposed to be in El Paso,” the editor said.
The reporter began to stammer his apologies. “Well, I was, but-“
“Then get back to El Paso until I tell you to come home, damn it!”
The reporter drove back to the airport and took the first flight back to El Paso, where there was still no story. He called the News from a phone booth and meekly asked his editor if he could return. “Sure,” the editor said. “Get on the next flight. We need you.”
The Last Detail. After a series of boozy debacles, one veteran rogue foundhimself fired from the News. Hoping to salvage what had once been a fine talent,the Herald gave him one last chance: If he would go to Texarkana, if he would write two stories and get them in on time and if he was a good boy, they would take himon the staff. True to roguish form, the News castoff set out to self-destruct. He tooka girlfriend along (on the Herald expense account) and what with one thing andanother never quite got around to interviewing anyone except bartenders. His advance money vanished, and the Herald turned a deaf ear to his pleas for a loan, sowhat could he do but slither out of town with an unpaid hotel bill? The hotel stillowns several of his suits and a Herald typewriter. The Herald is mad. The rogueis writing for a tiny paper in the Panhandle. Easy come, easy go.