Writer’s Digest Your Story 20: My Under-750-Word version

No, it didn’t make the final cut, but I thought I’d share it with you.

I hope this story will also stir some debate. Some think it’s vehemently wrong to use profanity in fiction. I am of the camp that believes it depends on the audience: if a Christian one, then no. If a general, secularized one, then do so but in a way that’s not caricaturized…

Journalism is Dead

By Richard Zowie

Kevin Ballard loved his job.

For the past six months he’d worked as a reporter for the Los Patos Star, a weekly publication in Los Patos, Texas (a South Texas town of about 15,000). Kevin carried two beats: the local schools and their sporting activities. That meant school board meetings, talking to teachers, students and coaches and digging to learn happens behind the scenes. Armed with his digital audio recorder, pens, notebook and modest digital camera (the paper was too small to afford the thousands of dollars needed to buy a professional-grade camera), Kevin did his best to write 10 or so stories a week. Sometimes he even wrote a humor column.

At first, he was nervous. Kevin wasn’t from Los Patos, and it was one of those Texas towns where many families dated back to before Texas’ independence from Mexico in 1836. It could take years, if ever, for an outsider to gain trust and respect. Especially someone like Kevin, who had subtly tried to shake his Michigan accent by changing his pronuncation of vowels, going from saying byalance to balance. When he wrote, he made sure he did so fairly and accurately. He always got both sides of the story, such as when he quoted a medical insurance company spokesperson to explain why their policy would not cover a local single mother’s kidney transplant.

At 3 p.m., he returned back to the Star office after having spent much of the day at the high school. A math teacher was resigning to open his own engineering firm, the football team’s star quarterback was about to break the town’s heart by signing a letter of intent with the University of Oklahoma (instead of Texas or Texas A&M) and a trusted source told Kevin the high school was planning to start teaching Mandarin Chinese. Many parents, especially those who hate the “Made in China” products, will not be happy, they warned him.

He sat, ready to scribe his notes and then call it a day when Joseph, the editor, called him into his office.

Kevin sat in the editor’s office and noticed Joseph closed the door, something he didn’t do unless something was wrong.

Joseph sighed deeply and sat in his chair. Kevin could never tell what color Joe’s eyes were because Joe always had a strange habit of never making eye contact. He especially seemed evasive now, glancing at his desk, at the ceiling and at Kevin’s breast pocket. Opening up a drawer, Joe reached in and pulled out a long, folded rectangular piece of paper that resembled a paycheck.

“Joe, I already received my paycheck today,” Kevin said.

“I know,” Joe replied, quietly. “This is your severance check.”

For what seemed like 10 minutes neither spoke. Kevin didn’t know what to say, and Joe twitched in his chair and constantly refolded his hands as he waited for Kevin to talk.

“I’m being fired?” Kevin finally asked, his voice hoarse. It was the fourth time in two years he’d lost a newspaper job, each time to a layoff.

“No. Laid off. We’re making cutbacks, and since you’ve been here the shortest, they’re letting you go. With two weeks of severance.”

“But…I thought I did a good job. In the six months I’ve been here, I’ve only had one error in my reporting and I get calls from people all the time saying they like my work.”

Joe nodded. “I know, Kevin, and I fought like hell to keep you here. It’s a corporate decision.” He paused and sighed again. “This stays between us. Got it?”

“Yes.”

“Truth is, Kevin,” Joe said, still glancing at the walls, the door and at Kevin’s folded hands, “the company has this bullshit new business model where they save money by getting rid of higher-priced help and bringing in younger, cheaper talent. They’re looking to hire some kid straight out of college who will work for about five dollars an hour cheaper than what you will. I’ve seen this kid’s work, and, frankly, he can’t write worth shit.”

Later that day, at home waiting for his wife to get back from her part-time sales job, Kevin sifted through websites of institutes with medical professional careers like pharmacy assistant, front office assistant and x-ray technician. They paid great and, unlike journalism, they were stable and in demand.

 

Journalism’s dead, Kevin thought, knowing from now on his writing career would consist of blogging.

Copyright 2009 Richard Zowie. All rights reserved. May not be republished without the author’s permission.

Richard Zowie has several blogs. Send comments to richardzowie@gmail.com.

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