by Peter Gorman
(Swans - April 25, 2011) Seat-of-your-pants decisions rule journalism, or else there would be no press. When a new, young, reporter named Chris at High Times magazine -- where I was executive editor -- was given an assignment in Jamaica, he'd never traveled beyond the backyard of New York City for a story.
It was 1996 with the USA in a strong and growing economy despite political nit-picking that took center stage. Chris was a happy Manhattanite, and actually had never been a journalist before except for one foray (which got him the HT job) involving his debut into Narcotics Anonymous, an organization like AA with the same basic system for narcotics users. He'd written a novel that included the NA bit and my editor-in-chief, Steve Hager, on hearing him at a reading, thought he had potential as a journalist. So he asked Chris to write an account of NA as non-fiction, and the result was a very funny piece that we ran as a cover story.
Chris was subsequently asked to cover a pot story -- an easy one -- in Jamaica, to test his potential. The story involved talking to some growers about their operation and was all set up before he left JFK. It should have taken about 6 hours.
But Steve Hager left town shortly before Chris did. And when Chris landed in Jamaica amid some social unrest he couldn't get to where he was supposed to go for his set-up story.
I was executive editor and fielded a call from Chris -- either very late at night or very early in the morning -- to say he was calling because of social unrest and could not do his story and so what should he do?
I thought a minute, and then told him that no journalist worth his salt would ever go on assignment and not come back with a story, any story. If there was social unrest, that was the story. But if he came back naked or frightened and didn't do anything, he'd never get another assignment.
He questioned me. I reiterated that every foreign locale had a story. Find one. If there was an insurrection, do that story.
A week or so later he came back. He wrote a story about the civil unrest that night and how it led him to some very interesting people.
The story generated a book by him from St. Martin's Press called Paradise Burning: Adventures of a High Times Journalist published in 1998. The book was pretty successful, I think, and Chris Simunek continues to work at High Times preaching the moral to never go on assignment without thinking the foreign country might change in seconds. Go with the flow and report what's happening, not necessarily what you thought you'd be covering.
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About the Author
Peter Gorman is a writer, explorer, and naturalist. An Award Winning investigative journalist, Gorman has spent 30 years tracking stories from the streets of Bombay to New York City. His book, Ayahuasca in My Blood: 25 Years of Medicine Dreaming, was published in 2010 to good reviews. To learn more about him, please read his full bio posted on his Web site. He currently lives on a small ranch in Joshua, Texas. (back)