I briefly borrow a chair at CNN

And other further adventures in journalism


When it became clear to my bosses at the international wire that I would never accept one of their many offers to be sent to the Frankfurt, I was gently encouraged to get another job.

Fortunately, another unit of Dow Jones was hiring: their bond wire. There was an opening in the team covering municipal bonds, the bonds cities issue in order to finance roads, schools, and hospitals.

The job was open because municipal bonds are deadly boring.





Cities usually pay back what they owe, so there's not a lot of drama in the municipal bond market.

But I had gotten accustomed to getting my byline in the daily Wall Street Journal newspaper, which picked up the international wire's currency column. My father liked to fold the newspaper with my byline on the outside and riding up in the elevator at the company where he worked.

Continuing to work for the bond wire offered a cushy world of Dow Jones corporate benefits, along with more of those delicious bylines. They made my name pop up regularly in Nexis, the Google of the day.

Then, to everyone's surprise, a city actually went broke.


It was a county, actually - Orange County, a wealthy region in Southern California, and home to the original Disneyland.

It went bankrupt by trying to get richer: its treasurer was borrowing money and gambling it on high-risk investments he didn't understand.

The Orange County bankruptcy offered me an enormous amount of angles and stories. I began to fancy myself quite a reporter, and decided would like to give up municipal bonds forever and sit among the Pulitzer winners at the Journal full-time.

I was not welcomed with open arms.





In the mid-1990s, the predecessor to Internet journalism - that is, text appearing on a computer - was considered greatly inferior to journalism printed on paper.

Real reporters worked for newspapers or magazines. Electronic copy was written by hacks or kids.

I was determined to beat this prejudice. I used my spare time writing extra articles for the paper, including "orphans" the light pieces that ran on the lower left-hand corner of the second section, and "A-heads", which ran down the middle of the front page.

I used two weeks of vacation to turn around tiny stories on the paper's spot desk. I wrote an edition of the Journal's weekly marketing column.

The articles ran, but my career went nowhere.

I didn't give up: I applied for every position open, pestered anyone I thought might be able to help me, and even approached the CEO of Dow Jones on my mission. Although he was very nice, he didn't give me the job I wanted.

"Just because you write for the Journal," one editor finally told me, "doesn't mean you are good enough to write for the Journal."



Fortunately, Dow Jones was opening at TV station at about that time, so I went to work there. I was an associate producer, arriving at 1:30am to look through the wires (the wires where I had previously worked) for potential stories for the morning news show.

I knew nothing about TV, but the startup station had hired a lot of people who knew a lot about TV and nothing about business journalism, so we trained each other. Soon I was editing video packages and writing voiceovers.

I still made occasional beginner's mistakes, like shouting in the anchorwoman's earpiece while she was on the air, but I learned fast.

I had to. Four months after the TV station went on the air, it was off again, replaced by Christian entertainment programming.

My first NYC apartment. The pig advertised a pork restaurant downstairs. Hassidics Jews, offended that the pig faced several Jewish shops across the street, threw paint bombs at it.

Inside the apartment, a "2-rm studio" which clocked in at about 200 square feet. I had just purchased this slick new Mac Performa.


For the rest of my time in New York, I was journalist for hire.

There were a few months at CNN. The network's founder, Ted Turner, had recently given a million-dollar donation to the United Nations, but mysteriously had not purchased enough chairs for all the producers at CNN.

If you had to go on air with an update, as I frequently did, you had to either crouch in front of your computer and type or throw some other poor soul out of his chair.

Even in his absence, Ted was a constant presence at CNN in those days. He was a militant ex-smoker, so even freelancers had to sign a statement that they would smoke neither at work nor in their private time.

I've never been a smoker, but the declaration annoyed me, and I refused to sign it until CNN withheld my first paycheck.


After that, there was a year or so at ABC Television, working on their news and entertainment sites.

This was after the Internet had been popular, but before it was possible to stream video over the Internet, so we mostly just wrote fluff pieces about the various ABC shows.

Working at one of the big networks was fun, though: we'd run into their famous anchorman in the employee cafeteria, holding up the lunch line by trying to pay with a 100 dollar bill.

And my colleagues who answered the phone got lots of calls from crazy people, claiming that ABC was beaming television waves into their heads. They developed a standard answer: try putting some aluminum foil inside your hat.

It was hardly what NYU journalism school had trained me for, but it was a living, at least for awhile.

Anyway, most of my energy was going into my two great projects of the 1990s: trying to become a famous writer and trying to get married.


Next: Why I never got married.

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