Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell will be named Sen. Barack Obama’s vice presidential running mate, a high-ranking source in the administration told the Patriot-News.
That was my lede after being tricked into believing Rendell was Obama’s No. 2 man by a famed newsroom of top-flight state government correspondents in the Harrisburg state capital.
This isn’t the story of the Pennsylvania governor being named Obama’s running mate. This is the story of how the economy is in free fall, newspapers are on life-support, and yet they still can’t get rid of me.
I am a 23-year-old underemployed freelance journalist. A college news service listed me among the one-hundred most promising young journalists in the country last year. I have covered courts and business for publications in major markets. I was my university’s commencement speaker.
Yet I have $6 in my savings account. Editors won’t return my calls or e-mails. Those who do apologize and say things like, “good luck out there.” I wake up to an industry that was losing jobs long before the economy went south. I get pitches rejected like freelance writers before me, but now I’m competing with slashed budgets and a deluge of underemployed reporters.
What young person would voluntarily join a profession that keeps asking, “Why do you want to do this?”
Last August, I was finishing a post-graduate internship with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association, covering the state capital for six media outlets on a rotating basis. I shared a water cooler with members of the oldest American journalism society of its kind, covering the largest full-time state legislature in the country and being mentored by a group of reporters with more than two centuries of journalism experience among them. I had to wipe the newsprint off my hand after shaking theirs.
I sat in on boring committee hearings and leafed through hundreds of pages of reports. I developed relationships, pitched stories, and found angles. The only thing I proved more completely than that I was determined to take on the craft was how new I was to it.
Newspapering has been a reliable craft for at least a century and a half. So there’s no way to stop this new generation of reporters raised online from trying to save the newspaper universe, because everyone wants to save something, and newspapers need lots of saving right now. Maybe that’s why there were almost 10 percent more journalism students in 2007 than in 2002, and 2.5 percent more than the year before. According to the latest annual report by the Cox Center at the University of Georgia, there are more than 200,000 journalism and mass media students in the country. Why couldn’t one in that number be the newsprint messiah?
“Did you hear that?” Harrisburg Patriot-News capital correspondent Jan Murphy asked me on the morning of August 15, 2008. A Rendell official who was a former Patriot reporter dropped a bombshell on Murphy in the newsroom: Rendell, the official whispered, is going to be named Obama’s running mate, a highly suspect but then still possible scenario since we were a week from Joe Biden’s appointment. Murphy was wading through statewide school test results. “You can handle this,” she asked me. “Can’t you?”
If there is a 22-year-old reporter on the planet who would say no, he needs to find a new career goal.
What I felt then was a rush I never felt so strongly, not on different continents or jumping out of airplanes. I was in possession of the single-most meaningful political story in the world and not another soul on the media planet knew it. I caught the state’s Democratic party executive director on her cell phone. “Next Monday could be a very exciting day for Pennsylvania,” was all she would say on record. I actually got goose bumps. After some persistence, a Rendell spokesman seemed to all but confirm the rumor. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened,” he relented. A spokesman for Obama in Pennsylvania refused comment, but let on that an announcement was coming next week. A state Republican spokesman told me he heard the Rendell rumor too and wanted me to confirm it.
I was going to break one of the biggest stories of the 2008 presidential campaign. … And then the Patriot cubicle flooded with about every other reporter there. “Burned!” Murphy shouted at me, the other reporters laughing. The entire newsroom, state representatives, and political operatives across the state were part of the most elaborate prank I ever faced.
“Iknew Rendell would be a stupid choice,” was all I could offer.