For my first blog post, I will employ the technique of parroting someone else’s work. In this case, the nameless creator of one of the last editor’s page columns in the San Francisco Examiner. The old one, not the new one. This is one of those things that you cut out and pin on a wall, and watch as it yellows. It will not yellow further in this medium, however. That is a guarantee from me. If you are seriously considering a career in journalism, stop reading now. Drum roll, please…

The Reporter’s Test

Bill Boldenweck, now retired, was for many years an award-winning Examiner reporter who daylighted as a part-time journalism lecturer at his alma mater, San Francisco State.

He was convinced he could truly help journalism students by giving a little test that could evaluate their potential for newspaper careers.

The_Reporters_Test Boldenweck

But first, as he told his classes in Newswriting 50, he needed to tell a story.

Gag photos were popular during the 1930s career of Examiner photographer Jack French, and his specialty was the animal picture. Dogs in tutus. Cats on bicycles. That sort of thing.

Officials at San Francisco Zoo appreciated the publicity but wearied of French’s odd and sometimes risky demands. They eighty-sixed him when a zookeeper injured his back after falling from a camel’s hump.

This greatly annoyed Examiner editors, who stopped sending photographers to the zoo. Eventually the zoo director relented, called up French and promised him an exclusive photo session with the zoo’s chimpanzee.

French was delighted. He detoured to the Bay Meadows race track and showed up with jockey silks. The chimp’s keeper was dubious but finally agreed to put the uniform on the skittish animal.

Then French asked the keeper to pose the chimp atop the shell of one of the zoo’s beloved 100-year-old tortoises. Uh uh, said the keeper. They’re natural enemies.

French became threatening. OK, said the keeper, but just once. The nervous chimp got aboard. The flash went off. The chimp screamed. The tortoise looked up. The chimp grabbed the tortoise’s neck and ripped off its head.

Boldenweck would end the story with a visual survey of the journalism students, most of them horrified.

“Anybody who was laughing,” he said, “had a pretty good chance of making it in the newspaper business.”