Katharine Valentino, 12/11/2017
Current Occupation: Retired
Former Occupation: My former occupations, in order, are: baby sitter, sales clerk, Rockette rookie, mail sorter, maid, assistant trainer for the blind, administrative assistant, so-called dancer, waitress, newspaper and newsletter editor, technical writer, IS specialist and literary editor.
Contact Information: Katharine Valentino, mother and grandmother, worked for 25 years at menial jobs before acquiring a BA degree in journalism—summa cum laude!—from Indiana University in Bloomington. For the next 20 years, she worked at slightly more interesting jobs and occasionally was even allowed to write some technical thing or another. She retired in 2012 and moved to Eugene, Oregon. She is writing her memoirs, each of which, when done, she reads to her grandson. She also occasionally edits and publishes memoirs for others. Her Website is I Write [and Edit] for You.
Throughout more than 60 years of work, whenever I’ve been asked, “What are you?” I’ve always answered dutifully, “I’m a … [whatever I’ve been doing lately to make money].” But in my mind, I have vowed never to be whatever I was doing at that moment just to make money.
Newspaper and Newsletter Editor
The following year, I became the editor of the college’s Latino Affairs Newsletter. It was only part time, but it was a real job.
Notice, I said, “I became the editor,…” not “I worked for a while editing….” So writing and editing was to become my career? All right! Finally, at age 39 I had a career! I immediately declared a journalism major.
When I discovered there were approximately 400 journalism students for every single journalism job in the country, I said, “That’s OK. I’ll be best,” and I got straight A’s. When I heard about how difficult it was to get published without ever having been published, I said, “That’s OK. I’ll get published now.” And I did get both straight news and feature articles published in the student and the local newspapers. When I heard how difficult it was to get a first job in journalism, I said, “That’s OK. I already got that first job.”
I worked my tail off, taking 15 hours of classes a week, slogging through the expected three hours of homework for every hour in class, writing articles for Latino Affairs and keeping house for my family.
I graduated with honors. Then I had lots of interviews. No job, though.
The problem was that the majority of my graduating class was 24 years old and the editors who were interviewing me were in their 30s. It was embarrassing for them to ask someone almost old enough to be their mother to work for the minimum wage then being paid to newbies.
I did find freelance work for a while writing articles for several city magazines, and then, finally, landed an actual journalism job.
In the interview for that job, I asked why a newspaper put out for Black people would want to hire a White editor. The publisher chuckled and said, “Black people can’t write. If you want to find somebody who can write, you find you a White person.” Gosh, after all that schooling, he hired me on the assumption that I could write, and he assumed that based only on my skin color.
Oh, well. I threw myself into the work, putting in 60 hours a week writing a feature article a day, editing the national and state news for localization and Associated Press style, editing contributing writers for the political, community and religion sections, writing the editorial that is expected from the editor, overseeing design and formatting and even doing paste-up.
My work paid off: A year later, I was notified that my paper and one other in another state had won “best small Black newspaper in the South.” An announcement would be forthcoming soon and I would be invited to speak at a banquet.
The paper was selected for this award in part because we carried a series of articles on an eminent-domain scheme. In the name of progress, Black people who lived in the area were being removed from homes they had lived in all their lives and were being paid a pittance for valuable property. I ran articles featuring elderly women being physically evicted and deposited on the sidewalk in tears, and I wrote editorials blasting the perpetrators of the scheme. Little did I realize that one of those perpetrators was my publisher. When he found out what I was doing with his newspaper, he made some calls to ensure it would not receive any awards. And then he fired me.
For a while, I worked at the silliest things: Clean wool rugs with a scrubbing brush and soap and water. Squeeze oranges in a manual squeezer for a breakfast restaurant. Hang over the railing of a balcony that encircles a large house and, upside down, paint the outside railing rungs. Scrub the ceiling of a houseboat. Seat people on three levels of a huge restaurant and try not to literally go tripping down the stairs to seat the next patrons. Do typesetting for the local paper (me, who could never write or type very fast).
Oh, and write freelance for the local paper. This was a silly job only because I was so obviously qualified to be the editor. I wrote freelance articles for some months because I knew that the paper’s editor was looking for a job in some other, warmer, town. When he found that job and moved out of the constant cold, however, the publisher didn’t even respond to my job application. Instead, he hired a man from Seattle who was less qualified than I was, who was without knowledge of the local scene, and who lasted only about three months. Then, he hired a second man from somewhere on the East Coast who lasted no more than a few weeks. After that, would you believe he hired a third man from somewhere else. By that time, I was finally willing to believe my women’s lib friends who had been telling me he would never hire a woman as an editor.
Next: I didn’t even know what “IBM” stood for. “International Business Machines,” said my friend, a long-time IBM employee, on the phone. He knew I had graduated with a journalism degree and on that basis thought I’d be competent to edit such things as:
“Definition 18: LINE Defined ln XY-Plane Passing through Point and Tangent to Tabulated Cylinder
< SLN > = LINE/ < point >,TANTO, < tabcyl >, < near point >”
And so forth for four more pages to document Definition 18 of … was it 39? … definitions of that line.
I thought “TANTO” was the Lone Ranger’s friend. But silly me, I said sure, I’d do it. I showed up for work the next day. My friend greeted me, gave his computer a friendly pat and sat me in front of one of its many terminals. He handed me five pounds of the user guide I was to edit and another five pounds of instructions on using the terminal to do the editing. “If you have any questions,” he said, “find somebody and ask.” Ten months later, the job was done. I added “technical editor” to my resume and was once again pounding the pavement.
Next? A year or so working as the editor/reporter/typesetter of a weekly heating, ventilation, air-conditioning and refrigeration newspaper. I took the job because it was there and I needed rent money. I kept it for a year, learning surprising little about HVACR, until the publisher retired and closed up operation.
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