Wednesday, Oct. 9, 1996
I spent most of yesterday on the phone, belatedly firming up plans for a trip that will take me from Pittsburgh to New York to Philadelphia to New York again and finally to New Haven where, next weekend, I’ll celebrate the 20th anniversary of a career-changing freebie: The Yale Law School’s Fellowships for Journalists.
This is the program, still going strong apparently, in which ink-stained wretches are immersed in the “legal culture” and invited to join junior members of the cognitive elite in condescendingly critiquing the work of mere Supreme Court justices. I was a member of the first class of journalists to be so initiated, and to receive frameable master’s degrees for our trouble (and, in my day, a tax exemption for the stipends provided in lieu of our salaries).
I had a great time at Bill and Hillary’s alma mater, which sees itself as more of an academy of public service than as a trial lawyers’ trade school (does this help explain Whitewater?), and I’m looking forward to seeing the other four members of the pioneering class of 1976-’77.
I’m a little less juiced about my participation in a panel discussion on “Covering Urban America: Reflections by Two Decades of Yale Law School Journalism Fellows.” I like to pontificate in public as much as the next journalist, but the last couple of panel discussions in which I participated, on political correctness (yawn) and talk radio respectively, were depressingly disjointed affairs, owing largely to the glut of gabbers. Fortunately, only four of us will offer our “reflections” at Yale, and when I talked to the event’s organizer yesterday, I learned that I would have a few minutes all to myself. That means I had better prepare something cogent. Uh-oh.
My other phone calls yesterday were to friends and former editors at magazines in New York–or rather, to their secretaries and answering machines. My motives in looking them up are frankly mixed. It will be fun, for example, to wallow in Pittsburgh Catholic nostalgia with a parochial-school chum who writes for the New York Times Magazine, but I also hope he’ll steer me to an otherwise unreachable editor there who might assign me an article.
During my leave of absence, I hope to have the time–when I’m not correcting student papers–to write more “under my own name,” the poignant phrase editorial writers use to describe our signed work. But it’s been a while since I’ve had the time to pursue a free-lance career, and I feel a bit like a divorced man starting to date again. I had almost forgotten the awkwardness of making a pitch to a skeptical editor who doesn’t know anything about you. Until recently, I was that skeptical editor.
Even if it produces no commissions, my trip to New York will allow me to look up old friends and colleagues. The downside is that I’ll have to endure the Manhattanite’s inevitable, if unspoken, inquiry: Why aren’t you here? I’ve thought of having a novelty store make me a pre-emptive lapel button. It would say: “Yes, I’m Still in Pittsburgh, and I Like It.”