Skip to main content

A Confession

A Confession

By Rick Adams

I got my start in journalism when I was fifteen and a sophomore in high school on the school paper. I’m sure you’d all agree that I’ve come a long way since then. But in today’s column, I want to tell you about my first story assignment on that paper. It’s weighed heavy on my mind for a long time and I decided I could no longer continue bringing you stories and opinions until I cleared the air.

“But it was a long time ago, and in high school,” some of you might say, but this is truly the most honest thing I can think to do.

My editor then was a young man named Alex Gedicks who passed away shortly after his graduation a year later. He was a good editor for a seventeen-year-old kid, fair minded with a flair for what would get students to read papers. It was the knowledge of his skill that made me resent him slightly when he passed down my first story assignment. “400 East,” he told me, “you know the road that leads to the front parking lot to the school? Why has it been under construction for so long and when is it going to be finished?”

“I don’t know,” I replied, not comprehending that this would be my first story.

“Find out. It’s going to be on page three in this weeks paper. You’ve got till school’s out in three days.”

The school bell rang and I went home, terrified of my deadline. I didn’t even know the first place to start. I made a few calls to the city works but never got further than a secretary. I suppose at that stage in my life I was too timid to work the phones although I certainly grew into it over the years.

Two days went by and I had gotten nowhere. My homework had piled up in all of my other subjects and getting to the bottom of the road construction had managed to slip it’s way down to the bottom of my priority list.

I needed to turn a story in and I hadn’t talked to a single person and I hadn’t done the research. So I did what any fifteen-year-old kid does when he has a book report due on a book he hasn’t read.

Which is to say, I made it up.

I fabricated quotes and everything. In the story I had gone to the city and found that the delay had to do with budget constraints and then I went out and interviewed the workers on the road.

“We’re gonna be burnin’ the midnight oil on this one to get ‘er done on time.” These were the actual words I put in the mouth of a construction worker I named Fred Hollenbeck.

I turned in the story and all anyone said was, “Good work.”

The story was published and I’m assuming no one who knew otherwise had read it because no one ever seemed to notice any of the problems in it.

Thinking back on it, that story was as good as any to start with, it’s something I could have sunk my teeth into today, despite its seeming innocuousness. But I didn’t. I fabricated what should have been a news story. I learned from there, I never did it again. I felt so guilty about it I made doubly sure to check all of my references and sources afterwards, sometimes to a fault.

Perhaps that’s what high school newspapers are for, though. Journalists like myself can make those mistakes there instead of here, where things truly matter. Had I made that mistake today or at any point during my professional career I'd be blacklisted. I'd never work at a paper again, but maybe this really is the purpose of high school papers.

Maybe not. Perhaps I am just trying to justify my preposterous lapse of judgment.

In any case, I’ve now removed this weight from my chest and I’ll understand if I have less people reading what I put beneath my byline now.

I thank you for your time.

Rick Adams is a daily columnist and associate editor of the Times' opinion page.
2 comments

Popular posts from this blog

Anatomy of an Opening: The End of the Affair

Instead of breaking down a scene from a movie, this time we'll break down the opening of a book. (Previously, I've done scenes from City Lights, Citizen Kane, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  I've also broken down the opening to Starship Troopers.

Graham Greene's The End of the Affair is absolutely one of my favorite books. The writing is lyrical and story heart-wrenching and beautiful. Greene's style of writing is such that he always has me gripped, whether it's the beginning of the book or the end. And he shows you so much about the character in his opening lines.

So, here are the first two paragraphs from the book:
A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which, to look ahead. I say 'one chooses' with the inaccurate pride of a professional writer who - when he has been seriously noted at all - has been praised for his technical ability, but d…

The Symbiotic Relationship Between Art and Politics

Art is inherently political.

Let's just get that out of the way. We all have things we want to say (or things we want to not say) in our personal lives that shape the art we make. And artists, more often than not, are trying to say something with their art, even if their goal is to not say something.

There is no doubt that this has been a turbulent week in the country I live in. There are many of us that are confused and shocked and afraid of what might be to come in the future. That's understandable. As artists and writers, I feel like we're typically more empathetic than the general population. It's easy to think about what it's like to be in someone else's shoes because we spend so much of our creative time almost literally in someone else's shoes. And we need to pass that understanding on to our readers or viewers or however else they're consuming this art.

I've seen this troubling idea, though, that art needs to be purely for escape and that p…

Writing is Listening

In many social situations, I'm a talker. I like to think of myself as a raconteur, but it's more just like I don't know how to shut up. At least in the right situation. I've done a lot and know just a little bit about so many different things, it's easy for me to find something to talk about with people. When I can come out of my social anxiety shell, I actually like talking to people. But there are times when I can't really talk, I don't have the energy, emotional or physical, to do it. Instead, I just drink in the surroundings.

I like to listen. I like to observe.

It's something we writers have to do. We have to take in all the input we can. And sometimes that means shutting the hell up and just listening. Listen to your friends tell their stories. Listen to how they talk about other people and describe them. Listen to the words they use. Listen to the emotion in people's voices as they're talking. Watch how they talk. What sorts of things th…