I had been in Phoenix exactly one day when I saw a news story on TV about former Governor Evan Mecham's plans to publish a newspaper. At the time, Mecham refused to give a publication date for Arizona Newsday, but he said that when it did start, it would be big.
My first assignment as a summer intern for New Times? Get a job as a reporter at Mecham's newspaper.
I put together my resume and a cover letter to Mecham stating that I had become "disillusioned by the mainstream press." I complained about "widespread bias among journalists." Then I added, "But after learning of your paper, I have become excited at the prospect of working for such a publication. I would be willing to help in any way--reporting, writing, researching, etc. Please contact me . . . ."
I dug up some clips from a nice newspaper I had worked for in my hometown. I ironed some shirts, unpacked a paisley tie and bought a can of hair-styling mousse.
The assignment landed me in Mecham's inner sanctum. Was it journalism? Actually, it was fund-raising.
On the bright side, I did generate more than $3,000 for the impeached governor's newspaper.
Here's what happened:
MDRVTHURSDAY, MAY 30
I have spent several days trying to imprint my persistent persona onto Ev Mecham's psyche. I've sent him my resume and clips; I've chatted with him by telephone. Finally, it's paying off.
"If you want to come out tomorrow around 2:30, some of us are meeting at United Pottery, a company owned by my son," Ev tells me over the telephone. "We have an office for the newspaper, but we're just getting our office phones hooked up tomorrow, so we'll have to use United Pottery. He's got phones there."
MDRVFRIDAY, MAY 31
I show up at United Pottery, a building in the area of 51st Avenue and Missouri. The receptionist tells me to wait in the showroom, pointing to a man and a woman who also have come to see Ev.
I walk up to the others and introduce myself. Florence Preston sports large, round eyeglasses and a huge smile. Flo was a field manager in Mecham's last campaign for governor; she had worked for Mecham's right-hand man Earl Taylor. The man is Rick Lanning; he introduces himself as a longtime newspaperman who started out "when news was news." He exited the daily-news world, he says, when slanting stories became the norm.
I explain that I moved to Phoenix from Chicago to look for work after losing faith in journalism. But when I learned of Mecham's newspaper, I became excited at being a part of such a noble and courageous effort.
I grumble about "bias" among professors and students in journalism school. I say I'm interested in objectivity, and that today's journalists don't do that. Lanning agrees, saying he can't believe how journalism has changed since when he started.
Preston fills me in on Mecham's past miseries, how poorly the press has treated him, how biased media coverage led to his ouster. I express sympathy.
Preston and I are chatting when, suddenly, her eyeballs bulge. The governor has arrived! She hurries over to him. I follow.
After wiping off my sweating palms, I introduce myself. The governor remembers me from our telephone conversation. With Ev is a guy I'll call Pete Jones. (He could lose his other job if his bosses find out he's working for Ev.)
The five of us go into a small back room that has tables along two walls, a desk in front and twelve telephones. During the day, sales representatives use the telephones to sell pottery to chain stores across the country. We will use the telephones to sell Mecham.
Ev says we need a "brainstorm session." Here's the scene: Preston, Jones, Lanning, Ev and me, sitting in a circle with our legs crossed, planning the future of Mecham's newspaper. Only Lanning and I have had newsroom experience--besides Mecham. Nobody there has known me for more than an hour.
Mecham hands a computer print-out of 15,000 names to Jones, who calls it "gold." Mecham tells Jones to guard it with his life.
Earlier in the week, Mecham sent these 15,000 "supporters" a letter asking them to subscribe. For $100, Mecham offers a two-year subscription, $200 in free advertising, a "handsome, numbered Charter Certificate suitable for framing," plus "additional benefits."
In the letter, Mecham boasts of having the "best brains in the business" working for his operation.
"I don't want to give out our secrets but I can assure you we will have the most circulation, the best delivery, and the most factual, interesting and easy to quickly read newspaper you have ever seen," Mecham wrote. "This is the case where the old monopoly newspaper begins to look like the dinosaur of the past in comparison to us being the rocket model of the future."