I'd been accepted by the University of
Chicago's School of Hospital Management, but I was sick of school. I was
an indifferent student. I daydreamed through half my classes at
Princeton, and applied to grad school only because I was ambitious, and
grad school seemed like the right path for a 21-year-old who wanted to
get ahead. Hospital management sounded like a useful and interesting
career. But before I headed for the University of Chicago, I took a job.
I thought the stress of a real job would make me appreciate school, and
then I would embrace graduate studies with renewed vigor.
Every time a company sent a recruiter
to Princeton, I volunteered for an interview. I got a dozen job offers
and took the one that offered me a free flight that would take me the
farthest: Seattle Magazine. They said they'd teach me how to sell
advertising or do bookkeeping. But by the time I graduated, Seattle
Magazine had gone out of business. I was lucky, though: Ancil Payne,
the boss of the parent company, King Broadcasting, called me to say,
"We have a job available at KGW, our Portland, Oregon, TV station.
Want to try that?"
I said yes, although I had never
thought about a career in TV news. I'd never even watched much of it. I
had no journalism training.
In Portland I started as a newsroom
gofer and worked my way up. I researched stories for others. Then, after
studying how the anchormen spoke, I started writing stories for them. A
few years later the news director told me to go on the air and read what
I wrote. I reluctantly tried, but I was horrible at it -- nervous,
awkward, scared. When I watched a tape of my performance, I was
But I persisted because I had to
succeed. When I was growing up, my mother had repeatedly warned me that
if I didn't study hard, get into a good college, and succeed in a
profession, I would "freeze in the dark." I believed it.
I was also determined to keep pace with
my brother Tom, who was the superstar of the family. While I partied and
played poker, he studied hard, got top grades, and went to Harvard
Medical School. Since I knew there was no way I could compete with Tom
in his field, I tried to become a success in the profession I'd stumbled
In retrospect, I see that it probably
helped me that I had taken no journalism courses. Television news was
still inventing itself then, and I was open to new ideas. I learned
through fear. My fear of failure made me desperate to do the job well,
to try to figure out what people really needed to know and how I could
say it in a way that would work well on TV. I stayed late at night to
experiment with different ways of editing film. I watched NBC's David
Brinkley and Jack Perkins and shamelessly copied them.
But I couldn't talk as well as they
could. Since childhood, my stuttering had come and gone. Sometimes I was
sure the problem had disappeared forever. Then it would return with such
a vengeance, I'd fear saying anything at all. I'd sit silent in class,
and miss out on dates because I was afraid to talk to girls ...
From Give Me a
Break. Copyright © 2004 by John Stossel. All rights reserved. Harpercollins Publishers.
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