Woulda Coulda Shoulda

Where have your career bloopers led you?

Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at New York University, posted a fascinating account of how he “got bitten by the journalism bug” in 1976, but then “screwed up” his chance to be a journalist. It’s a bit of mystery story tinged with late 20th century reportorial idealism. While a student editor at this college paper in Buffalo, Rosen convinced the local Courier-Express to hire to hire him as a summer “replacement reporter.” He had a “magical” experience, writing more than ten front-page stories for the paper and generally excelling at his job. At the end of Rosen’s assignment, the paper’s editor, Douglas Turner, asked Rosen to quit school to work at the paper. Rosen declined, but the editor promised him a job upon his graduation the following year.

Four months before the anticipated start date, Rosen started to wonder whether or not he had been wise to accept the first job offered to him. So, he scanned the ads in Editor & Publisher and applied for one that read, “Northeast Daily: General Assignment Reporter.” Rosen was unfazed when he received no response, thinking he would simply fall back on the promised job at the Courier-Express. When numerous calls to Turner went unreturned, however, Rosen grew desperate and confused. He went to the newspaper and headed into the editor’s office to ask what was amiss. Turner would not look directly at him and, without further explanation, called security to have Rosen escorted from the building (in an interesting response sent to Rosen, Turner says he does not recall doing this).

Rosen moved to Washington, D.C. where he failed to launch a freelance career. He then enrolled in New York University, where he earned his PhD and became a lifelong student of, and eventually renowned expert on, “media ecology.” It wasn’t until a few years later that a friend who still worked at the Courier-Express helped Rosen solve the mystery of his unceremonious banishment from the paper. It turned out that the job he had applied for at the unnamed “Northeast Daily” was, in fact, the very same one he had been promised. Turner had posted the opening to fulfill a legal requirement, and when he received Rosen’s bet-hedging application, he took it as an act of disloyalty.

On his Twitter feed, Rosen noted that he had never written about this story before, and we are glad he did.

And it makes us want to ask: Have you made any pivotal career mistakes (bloopers, might be a better word in Rosen’s case), and where have they led you?

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.