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ClearDot.gif (85 bytes) What Happened to Stossel?

. . . . . .

The Making of a Contrarian
I never planned to be a reporter. In college, when I tried to write a story for the school newspaper, the editors sneered and said, "Leave the writing to us." I was never much of a public speaker. I'm kind of shy, and I stutter. It all happened because I wanted to postpone graduate school.

• • • • • •
I was afraid to talk to girls,
because I'm kind of shy and I stutter

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 embarrassed.

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 into.

"Give Me A Break" by John StosselIn 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 ...psst! Magazine

From Give Me a Break. Copyright © 2004 by John Stossel. All rights reserved. Harpercollins Publishers.

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