Rejection is always out there, but it doesn't have to beat you
If you were raised the way I was, it's quite possible you weren't expected to amount to much. It was made clear as I approached high school graduation that I was not likely to go to college, because (A) I had terrible grades (a 1.75 GPA, which is a high D), and (B) nobody in our family had the money to pay for college.
I should also add here that if my parents were to hear that I was in trouble with a teacher, principal, coach, bus driver or anyone else in any position of authority, their reaction was always, "OK, what did you do this time?"
Of course, parents today ALWAYS take the side of their kid in a controversy, even when it's likely that their little angel is guilty as sin. This is far different than the world I grew up in. In the 1950s and '60s most parents hated their children.
All males leaving high school in 1965 had to either be bound for college, married with children or (ideally) both. Since I was none of the above, I received a draft notice from the U.S. Army immediately after my 18th birthday. Fortunately, I was already in high-level talks with a Navy recruiter so I just poked the envelope from Uncle Sam back in the mailbox and headed to town, where I signed a paper and swore an oath, resulting in a four-year commitment instead of the two years Army draftees faced. The big difference, of course, was that I never went near the jungles of Southeast Asia and nobody tried to kill me.
The Navy offered me a huge leg-up when I learned it would pay for classes at the local junior college, so in my final 2 1/2 years, all spent in Pensacola, I acquired about a year's worth of college credits — but most important, I realized I wasn't too stupid to survive in the world of higher education. And, what's more, when I left the service and landed in Eugene, I had enough G.I. Bill funding in my backpack to get me through Lane Community College and the University of Oregon School of Journalism. My dream, in spite of everything, was to be a newspaper writer.
Which brings me to what I really wanted to talk about today: rejection.
My rural upbringing, I believe, prepared me for it — which is good, since there was quite a bit of it waiting for me when I came prancing out of the U of O in the spring of 1974 and set out to find a newspaper job. I spent that summer sending out letters and resumes — and visiting newsrooms all over the state. Their lack of interest in me was almost shocking.
"Dear Mr. Kelly," wrote J.W. Forrester Jr., editor of The Daily Astorian, "We do not have any openings on our news staff and I do not foresee that we will have. Thank you for writing."
That same message came from all over Oregon.
"Right now, our news staffs are full," said Thomas S. Jenks, editor of the Corvallis Gazette-Times. "We have no vacancies for a reporter and, frankly, do not anticipate any."
"I am sorry, we do not anticipate any openings on The Oregonian staff in the near future," wrote J. Richard Nokes, managing editor. "Thank you for your inquiry."
"We have no openings at present," said Van Eisenhut of Salem's Oregon Statesman. He did offer a few encouraging words, though, including a tip that the best time to catch him in the office would be around 10 a.m.
"We have practically no turnover on our staff so there are no openings at the present time," wrote Walt McKinney, general manager of the Hillsboro Argus.
Jim Smith, publisher of the Central Oregonian in Prineville, wrote, "We are not currently in the market for additions to the editorial department and probably will not be for several years, other than replacing those who leave the company for one reason or another."
"Sorry, but we're at full staff, with no prospect of an opening for many months — and a fat file of applications," said Jim Welch, managing editor of the Capital Journal in Salem.
Well, you get the idea. We don't need anybody — probably never will, so you might want to consider another line of work. It was beginning to seem like my parents were right. Maybe I WAS supposed to come from work dirty, like my dad, who was a logger.
Then some pieces accidentally fell into place. First of all, John Buchner, executive editor of the Albany Democrat-Herald, took a few minutes out of his busy morning to talk to me, even though I just appeared on his doorstep uninvited (not a very wise thing to do). He looked at my resume and clips (from the LCC Torch and Oregon Daily Emerald), then told me about something none of those other folks had mentioned — the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association. They have a monthly newsletter, he said, and busy newspaper bosses often look at the job-wanted listings there rather than going to all the trouble to advertise their openings.
I hustled up to the ONPA office in Portland and filled out a little "classified" type ad on myself. Within a few days, two publishers called me. I interviewed with the first one, Joe Schafer of the Tigard Times, and by the end of that day I had a reporter job. Three years later I overstated my abilities and accepted the position of editor of the Woodburn Independent. Those three years were followed by five in Lake Oswego, four in Klamath Falls and, eventually, back to Tigard and Beaverton, where I spent the next 25 years at Community Newspapers.
Oh, I have another 18 or 20 more bad-news letters in my newspaper file, from papers all over Oregon and Washington, but they don't bother me nearly so much as they used to. For one thing, I learned a lot from all that rejection.
First and foremost, I decided that I would never be one of those guys who don't have time for the people looking for that first break (whether fresh out of school or just arrived from another state). If I was unable to meet with a job-hunter because of a deadline, I always tried to set up a time later to sit down and talk to them for an hour, about them and their qualifications as well as me and my company. To be honest, this is when I'd learn if it was someone I'd actually consider for a position — a real conversation without the stigma and pressure of a job interview.
Believe me, you know after a little talking when you're in the presence of a quality person.
I never stopped thinking, during my 41 years on the job, that sooner or later someone would figure out that I didn't really know what I was doing and never really deserved the opportunities I'd been given — and that they'd give me the boot. But I fooled them; they never did.
Mikel Kelly retired from newspapers in 2015 and now knows that no one can take away his title of retiree. What's more, he no longer cares if The Oregonian is hiring or not.
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