Another Perspective

My First Big Scoop

Back when the Goodyear blimp had a huge gondola.

By 9.26.08

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When I started working at the little chain of four suburban newspapers where my Dad was the advertising manager, I got the usual first assignment. Editor Bob Bork gave me a stack of press releases and told me to see if there was anything worthwhile to print.

In my judgment, as a go-getter high school sophomore, some half dozen of that first stack of releases looked newsworthy. I edited down the verbiage, wrote headlines, and handed them to Bob.

Bob whisked through them at the speed of a poker shuffle.

"Nah. Nah. Nothing here," he said.

I got the knack after a while. Most press releases had nothing to say. Every now and then something came up. I remember one from a local garden club, describing how a member had grown a ten-foot sunflower. I hooked one of the paper's Mamiyaflexes and went out and took a picture of the lady with the sunflower towering over her.

THEN I CAUGHT A JACKPOT. The Goodyear Corporation sent an announcement to the paper, notifying us that the Goodyear blimp would be in our area and offering to take local journalists for a ride. All the adults at the Post turned it down, and the offer landed on my desk.

"You're nuts!" I said. "You're all nuts!"

And I went.

I found the blimp tethered in a local field, presented my credential, and clambered aboard. If you've seen the recent TV special on the Met Life blimp, you've gotten a certain idea about the gondola where the pilots sit: It's not much bigger than the cockpit of a Cessna. The Goodyear's gondola was as big as a school bus.

Disconcertingly -- a blimp floats so smoothly, you don't think of this -- it was loud, like a big outboard motor. Of course, back then, that's almost exactly what the blimp engine was.

I leaned out the windows as we cruised the northwest Minneapolis suburbs and took picture after picture. There were only a couple of passengers besides me, so I could move freely back and forth from one side of the gondola to the other.

THE WEATHER WAS GORGEOUS, the vista incomparable. There is simply no nicer or more scenic way to fly than to cruise at 35 miles per hour at 1500 feet.

Back in the office, I ducked right into the darkroom and developed my film. When Bob Bork saw the proofsheet, his eyes opened wide.

"Great stuff, Larry!" he said. "We'll do a double truck in the middle of the paper. Print up seven or eight of these and write me some captions."

And so I did, and so I got my first big story in a newspaper. "Double truck" means a two-page spread. My pictures, my captions, probably the biggest single feature the paper had ever printed. Gosh, it was an innocent time. Flying was still a novelty, and most people had never seen their homes from above. We got lots of letters and lots of compliments on the photo spread.

I worked at the newspaper for two summers, and then Bob Bork gave me bad news. He had to let me go. The Newspaper Guild had found out I was taking and developing photos and writing stories and getting paid $1.65 an hour. I was underage and underpaid and, by the union's lights, overworked. At least once a week, I spent 12 straight hours in the darkroom, developing film and printing the hundred-plus pictures the papers used, in all four editions.

I would have done it for free.

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About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.