Most of the time, veteran prize-winning journalist Mort Rosenblum writes about politics, his newest book being “Saving Our World From Trump.” But today, on BoomerCafé, he writes from his home in Tucson about a fun story from the past, and the question it raises about the world’s oldest profession.
Peggy Walsh, a pal who did great work at the Associated Press and the New York Times, just posted an amusing memory to an admirable newsletter for old AP hands.
All 24-hour operations, in the news business and any other, have a graveyard shift, an “overnight,” but at the Associated Press, back then at least the world’s bedrock news source, the Overnight was worth capitalizing. For some it was an acquired taste, a usually quiet lonesome time for insomniacs headed toward retirement. But for new hires, it was the place to shine. If feces hits fan blades between midnight and breakfast, the story is all yours.
Early in her career, Peggy worked the Overnight in the Atlanta bureau, the hub from which to cover eight southern states. “Many nights were blissfully quiet,” she wrote. “I read and reorganized the bureau news-clip files. But when you were the only person answering for the region, there were nights you could barely find time for a bathroom break.”
One night she tracked down a bogus report that someone had tried to kill presidential candidate Jimmy Carter. Monster storm names seldom got halfway through the alphabet in those years, but even garden-variety tornados are tough to cover on your own.
Peggy remembers one early morning: “As I arrived home when others in my apartment complex were leaving for work, a neighbor I thought was particularly cute introduced himself and asked what I was up to. So proud was I of my new job and vocabulary, I answered that I had just worked the overnight trick, as it was then known. The horrified look on his face made me quickly realize that he assumed I was part of the world’s oldest profession. Embarrassed, I babbled an explanation and fled. We became good friends— but he never let me forget.”
I love the story, and that Carter incident got me thinking. Back then, you needed a printing press or a microphone to report news. If you got something wrong, big or little, you remembered your Omar Khayyam: “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”
It has always been a tossup whether prostitution or journalism is the world’s oldest profession. These days, with so many sellouts paid to slant “news,” too often they merge into the same thing.