“Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken.”
— Tyler Durden, “Fight Club”
The profession of journalism has some odd quirks you should know about.
They are odd enough in print journalism; in television journalism they are downright bizarre. When I was a newspaper reporter in Greenville, S.C., I made friends with many of the TV reporters in our market. They told me about their generous “clothing allowances,” which was a stipend they were paid every month to keep them looking snappy.
But I was always most amused by their names. One reporter, Anthony, had come to South Carolina from an East Coast market. He had Italian blood, and his first employer was in an Italian market, so they told him his name was “Tony” and he was encouraged to talk and dress “more Italian.”
In South Carolina, the only Italian food is at Fazoli’s, and so they told him to be “Anthony” and to “drop the ethnic stuff.”
After a couple years Anthony left South Carolina for a job in Chicago. One of the first questions at the interview: “Can you be a Hispanic?”
So Anthony had to go by a different on-air name. This time something “Hispanic.”
Over on the print side, we are more boring, but we do have a thing about our names.
I started training for the profession in eighth grade. Getting a spot in the journalism class was tough because if you were admitted, you got to skip Spanish classes. (Wow, was that short-sighted on the school’s part.)
To get in, you had to have good grades (my grades were OK), and you needed the recommendation of your English teacher. Lucky for me, Mrs. Hatfield liked me. Though I was a mediocre student, I read voraciously. And so did she.
So I squeaked by (a common theme in my life) and was admitted to the journalism class. As part of the class, we published the school’s paper, The Cougar Print, and the students did everything: writing, editing, layout, composition, paste-up and photography.
I was pegged as a writer and photographer, so I was sent to the darkroom to learn the lab processes and was trained to write. The first piece I ever did was probably the most ethically suspect story I’ve ever put my name to, but it turned out to be an important bit of writing in my career.
It was a feature on the editor, Stephanie, who was a candidate in the school’s beauty/scholarship pageant. The story was a total puff piece designed to catch the eye of the pageant judges. I didn’t know better, and I played along.
When I turned in the story to the teacher, she sat me down to have a conversation about my byline. I was told that this was the time when I had to pick my byline, and it would be something I should stick with for the rest of my life, even if I changed my birth name.
I had to carefully consider if I should use my middle name, “Martin,” as my first name. Or if I should use “Christopher M. Schwarz” to look more
pretentious grown-up. At the time, everyone called me “Chris,” and they still do. But there was a problem with “Chris.” My voice hadn’t changed yet, and it was really high-pitched. So high, in fact, that people on the phone thought I was a girl.
So I wanted to appear less girly in every way. “Chris” was a girl’s name, so I chose “Christopher.”
But no one calls me “Christopher;” it’s a terrible mouthful of consonants. So when you write, call or see me at a woodworking show, just call me “Chris.”
But whatever you do, don’t ask me if I’m Chinese – another weird and scarring event from my childhood.
— Christopher Schwarz