40 and counting

Bob
Bob Wakeham
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I have an anniversary this week. Nothing, mind you, that calls for a flag ceremony at the former Press Club on Water Street West, or the distribution of flowers at the press gallery at Confederation Building, or a few brew at the Ship Inn.

And it won’t blow the 40th anniversary of the Canada/Russia hockey series off the newscasts.    

In fact, it’s an anniversary only I (and perhaps my wife, parents and a few close friends) would believe worthy of note, an admission on my part early on here that is sure to move many readers onto the DRIVE section of The Weekend for enlightenment. But ignoring the potential readership loss, here is, nevertheless, for those with a higher tolerance for the self-indulgence of others, a brief — well, OK, 800 words or so — exploitation of columnist autonomy, utilized today to permit a recollection of a seminal time in my life.      

Forty years ago this week, I walked into The Evening Telegram newsroom at around five to eight in the morning, a rookie reporter, first day on the job, armed with a journalism degree and handicapped by pronounced shyness.

I’ll never forget it.  

The Telegram’s deadline back then was 10 a.m. and those two hours, from eight until 10, were the busiest of the day. I recall wondering in fear how in the name of the journalism gods I would be able to think, talk or write with such a cacophony of distractions bouncing off the walls.

Loud, old fashioned typewriters, some left over from the Second World War I’m sure, were being attacked by a dozen reporters or so and an equal number of assorted desk people. Twenty or more phones seemed to be ringing at once.

There were conversations taking place in every nook and cranny of the room. Chattering teletype machines were making a racket, spewing out news from around the world. And everything was taking place under a huge, dominating cloud of nicotine smoke.

Now, having done the bulk of my writing in a quiet university dorm up to that point, I had serious, immediate doubts this kind of venue was conducive to learning the craft I had chosen.

It was an intimidating entry to the news business.        

Someone finally took pity and I was led to a desk by the window, promptly given a picture of an old abandoned car wreck, and told to write a caption, probably the most innocuous assignment given out that morning. But I beamed with pride.

It was my first piece of professional writing.

And believe me, when the paper came off the presses that afternoon, there could have been coverage of a multiple fatality on the Trans Canada Highway, Nixon’s troubles, the Canada-Russia hockey series or a new Frank Moores’ cabinet: I was only interested in finding and reading that caption under the snap of the car wreck. For me, it was the most important few lines in the paper that day. I don’t know but I cut it out for posterity.  

It was a madcap environment, those two hours were, but a time frame I adjusted to over the next few months (if I hadn’t, of course, my reportorial career would have been an early flop). And, in fact, that wacky couple of hours that had initially scared the bejesus out of me actually became an adrenalin rush and always had a way of forcing my arse into high gear the minute I stepped off the elevator on the third floor of The Telegram, whether I wanted it to or not, especially after a night of debauchery.   

The eight years there were followed by five years at CBC Radio, more than 20 at CBC Television, and ultimately an early retirement due to health problems (followed by a decision by the crowd here at The Telegram to give me a weekly opportunity to vent my spleen).

And through it all, ever since that first morning 40 years ago, it has been a career of unbelievable highs and occasional lows, accolades and condemnations, accomplishments and mistakes.                  

But, you know something? As I think back to that morning four decades ago, when I ventured sheepishly into that boisterous, smoky newsroom, I know I would do it all over again. I wish I could do it all over again.  

Journalism, for me, has been a wonderful way of life, an occupation capable of providing uniqueness just about every single day, one that allowed me to meet thousands of fascinating people and tell countless stories of ordinary souls doing extraordinary things.  

And it’s a profession that has also delivered unquantifiable satisfaction when the big boys were being hooked and filleted.  

There were those who got away, of course, and some on my watch.  And I unfairly jigged (but only rarely) the odd target. You can’t go 40 years without making mistakes in any profession.  

But the catch, for the most part, I like to think, was abundant and legit.  

And the pursuit was rarely dull.

It’s been a grand 40 years, with, hopefully, a few more still to come.  

 

Bob Wakeham has spent 40 years as a

journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at

bwakeham@nl.rogers.com.

Organizations: Confederation Building, The Telegram, Trans Canada Highway Canada-Russia CBC Radio CBC Television

Geographic location: Water Street West, Canada, Russia Newfoundland and Labrador

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  • Shane Walters
    October 24, 2012 - 12:48

    Bob, your article brings back some vivid memories for me, too. My father, Ed Walters, was a rookie reporter with the Telegram starting, I believe, in 1961. He worked with Cal Holloway, who was his best friend and who later went on to be the editor of the Western Star. Later Dad would work with CP and rent an office at the Telegram building and because he usually worked evenings, he would often take me to the Telegram news room during the '70s which was exactly as you described it. I used to wander between the grimy pounding machines, and go down the stairs to fetch Coke for Dad who pounded copy and had reams of yellow teletype tape around his neck. Our cousin, Walter Churchill, used to be a printer downstairs. Very vivid memories. Very precious. Dad died in '94.

  • Colin Burke
    September 08, 2012 - 07:38

    Thanks, Bob. Brings back memories of the beginning of my career in September of 1966 at The Western Star from which I too retired early for reasons of health. I was far greener, not having studied journalism but philosophy, than you were: on my second assignment unaccompanied -- the first had prompted the editor to remark that maybe we needn't worry too much about the three months' probation -- I wrote three and a half pages about a Lions Club meeting, starting with who said grace for the meal. Cal Holloway cut it back to a page and a half or maybe less, showing me the real story was the guts of the speech by a deputy minister of welfare, and rarely after that did my copy need changing or at least any radical changing. Thanks again.