Journalism as Happiness
By Patrick Pacalo ’88
Maybe some of you have read my work. Yesterday it came to me that it was time to write another op-ed piece. Sometimes it’s just that way, it’s time. Journalism has been a source of happiness for me since the 1970s, and I thought this piece might venture to share some thoughts on that craft.
Some say there is a dichotomy in the field, the professional journalism school typology vs. the gruff self-taught. Everyone has had some instruction, be it from peers, a high school newspaper, or English class. The best training in northeast Ohio comes from the Professional Writing and Editing program at Youngstown State University. There is undergraduate as well as graduate course work offered, for wherever you are at in your career. My take was three courses, two grad and one undergrad. I was so fortunate to have worked as an editorial intern on a peer-reviewed journal in that program, and to have taken a professional web design course there in 1998 when few schools in the country offered such cutting-edge studies and practicum. Can I tell you how happy it has made me to help local businesses and nonprofits by building sites for them?
I wrote for a weekly off and on from 2005 to 2011. Over 450 articles knew my byline, and I knew everybody in Boardman and Poland as well as folks in Youngstown. Probably the best memory I have from that time was that I was invited to cover an announcement by an Ohio politician. I could pick and choose my stories, but I almost never turned down a freelance assignment. I arrived at the Poland home where the announcement was to be made, and the hosts showed me into the living area and buffet with pastries and coffees abounding. I was early, and the only person preceding me was a Poland councilman. He gave me a nod, and I shuffled over to get some coffee.
Soon the living room was backed with perhaps 35 citizens from the neighborhood. All were in a circle with backs to the wall. The public servant arrived with zero fanfare. I noticed I was the only media rep in the room. No other paper, TV, or radio station saw fit to cover. The soft-spoken man talked for a while, and I got some face time. He announced his candidacy for governor of Ohio. The politician was two-term governor Ted Strickland, who would later do such things as create the state department of veterans affairs. Comic Steve Martin said, “The most amazing thing to me is I get paid for doing this.” I would not have done it for free, but what a gig, man!
I have done bigger things: Army Times, the Plain Dealer, the Akron Beacon Journal, six books on the Cold War, and a very positive safety manual on accident investigation and prevention. None of the things I have done in writing was more absolute fun than chasing stories around greater Youngstown. I am nearing an end to a one-year hiatus in writing on the Cold War, and life has presented me with the chance to teach college political science today at Trumbull Business College in Warren.
If you want to start, invest in a Chicago Manual of Style. All the other style manuals are personality based and, if you ask me, pure bunko. Chicago manual is “just the facts ma’am.” Find a market; there are papers, some of which we lovingly call “fish wraps,” everywhere. I once ran my own four-color newsletter for a time. If you apply yourself long enough, it will open doors for you, and it is always a bit of excitement.