Yesterday, I accepted one of the five Robert Bartley fellowships to write at the op-ed desk of The Wall Street Journal. There were quite a number of applicants, but I won. Here's the link about the fellowship.
To be sure, there's a lot of pressure. At 2.1 million subscribers, the Journal has the highest total circulation of any publication in America -- which is rather higher than the 1000+ readers I get a day here. It is also one of the few papers in the country whose circulation is actually growing. I must say it feels pretty good to be in that company. It is something I have thought about and dreamed about since I got my start in journalism -- as a paper boy.
In middle school, I delivered the local South Shore newspaper, The Patriot Ledger. Along with my younger brother, I bought out all the other paper boys on the route -- something I later learned that Warren Buffet did, though he did it in high school.
Anyways, I started with twelve houses I ended with 228 sprawled all over town. I planned on acquiring more routes, but I couldn't find anyone I could hire. I can still remember every house, every address, every customer's name, and the very specific instructions for how I was to deliver the newspaper. For a thirteen year old, I could make quite a lot of money, but only if by working very hard. Christmas tips were often in the hundreds of dollars and they were, I'm pleased to recall, all cash. It is a testament to how hard the work is that nowadays you find only illegal immigrants running the routes, a process I saw unfolding during my three years. On Saturdays and holidays -- or on exceptionally cold days -- my parents or grandparents would drive me. On the front porch of the richer houses, I would notice the competition -- the New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Milton Record Transcript, The Boston Herald, among others.
The best, of course, was the Wall Street Journal, which my grandfather used to say only rich people read. We were not in that company. As my mother and pretty much everyone I knew was then and is now a liberal, we were Boston Globe readers -- a step up perhaps from The Boston Herald, but at least a step or two down from the New York Times and a whole staircase down from The Wall Street Journal.
I decided that I would read the Wall Street Journal and see what I could gain from it, as I walked my route. If rich people read it, maybe it had some hidden insight. Maybe I could one day make enough money so that I, too, could get the Wall Street Journal and live on the nicest houses on the block. It was a dream I tucked away in my coat pocket, safe from the cold, and there it remained, along with the receipts of customers paid and IOUs of those who hadn't -- something I also still remember, nine years later. Though I was told and have been told since to give up on that dream, I never abandoned it.
I couldn't afford a subscription, but I would always read it from the steps of those who purchased it, often taking it from the recycling bins once it had been discarded. Reading in those days right after 9-11, I decided then that I would write for it.
There were a few complications. I had no clue how I would achieve this goal. My parents were shopkeepers and school teachers who, though they enjoyed reading, were at a loss as to how I would do it, so I set out reading everything I could. I figured I could shoot for excellence and be content with the mediocre if I failed. So then, I asked for books and for access to them. Christmases were always spartan affairs, but useful still. I usually got books and warm socks. Birthdays were occasions for books, so much so that it was only in high school when a girlfriend told me that I gave lousy gifts -- only books. But books alone were how I survived these past eight years through my education, from paper boy to paper of record.
These were some tough years. I borrowed the $150 I spent to get to campus from Boston and I bought a one-ticket and couldn't even afford the cab to get to campus. (I went into overdraw on my account.) At campus, I worked a number of odd jobs from Craigslist and elsewhere -- my favorite was pulling a dead cat out from under a house -- but, diligently, I worked my way up.
My grandfather is still alive. What joy it gives me now that he can one day see my name in print in its pages or crafting the editorials that inspire the world. Of course he'll be a Boston Globe reader until the day he dies, but I'm hoping he'll read a few op-eds, by my hand -- though I know very much that he'll disagree with every word I write, still taking honor that he helped me earn the byline. Maybe he'll even buy a copy every now and again.
So to him and to everyone else, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you -- a thousand thank yous. There's work to be done yet -- there always is -- but I want to thank him and everyone else, from the paper route manager who encouraged me to take on more work, to my father who suggested I write for every school newspaper, to the teachers who edited and understood me, to the readers of this website, who, from the mean-spirited to the kindhearted have persuaded me never to quit. If I have seen my dream realized, it is only because so many shared in dreaming it with me.