True Confessions: In the summer of my youth,* I spent six years toiling in the mines of a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch. I can honestly say we never hacked anyone’s cell phones, largely because no one had cell phones.
This was late 1974 when I signed on as a weekend cop reporter for the San Antonio Express, the AM paper. Murdoch, his reputation as a schlockmonger well established, had bought the Express and its PM sister paper, The News, a few years earlier. Things would never be the same in San Antonio.
I was assured the Express was the ‘legitimate’ journal. The Express was the ‘newspaper of record’ which is journalese for ‘boring.’ It was gray and very Times New Roman and top heavy with facts and detail of monumental irrelevance. The News was transformed by an army of Australian journeyman editors who taught the Texans the virtue of loud if misleading headlines, short, punchy leads and short, very short, stories. They also introduced spectacularly heavy drinking. The paper itself was redesigned in garish colors and big-type headlines that focused on crime and oddities, often in combination. MAN BITES OFF OWN FINGERS, EATS THEM screamed one News headline. They were proud of that one.
The News, however, tried not to let many facts get in the way of a good story. Among some of the stories I recall and other anomalies:
- One enterprising reporter came up with a story at Lackland Air Force Base where foreign students barracked as they learned English. A ‘spokesman’ reported that students had been under assault by a shadowy group armed with ‘experimental ice guns’ that left no sign of a bullet after you were shot. It turned out not to be true.
- When Prince Charles visited San Antonio in the late ’70s, the News went nuts. Maps of his touring sites, biographical lists on the prince and the royal family. And an ‘exclusive’ front-page interview with the prince by a young News reporter. Which turned out to be a three-paragraph story growing from the single question the reporter shouted out to the Prince as he walked through a crowd. That was it. The managing editor couldn’t understand why AP didn’t want it. Seriously.
- Murdoch also introduced Page 3 Girls and The Star. Instead of the photos of topless ‘actresses’ that graced his London publications, the News used women in bikinis who looked a little hard around the edges and more than a little tired from an overnight gig dancing at a strip club. We were so proud. The Star, a garish weekend magazine filled with photos of actors in bikinis and breathless accounts of their fights, affairs and divorces. was an abbreviated version of Murdoch’s bigger version. It’s still around.
You can’t make this crap up. Though the News certainly tried. It wasn’t all terrible or unethical. A host of young talent learned how to write tight, if not always with clarity. The learned how to meet deadlines, day after day. And they learned not to take themselves so seriously – something those of us working on the Express side took a while longer to catch.
I left the Express in 1981 for the grandeur that was The Dallas Morning News. Hearst bought the Express-News in 1993 and San Antonio journalism was never as stark raving mad or fun.
*OK, it was not so much the summer of my youth as the early fall. I had a slow start. Details.
UPDATE: Corrected more creative spelling of cell phones. Spelling Nazis!
UPDATE II: I have been informed by readers that (a.) ‘right tight’ should be ‘write tight’ and that (b.) Hearst bought the E-N on Jan. 28, 1993. Clearly, I need to hire an editor.