See that boy riding his bicycle through suburban streets to deliver newspapers? That’s me, age 12, circa 1964, making my morning rounds to one split-level house after another.
I’m a kid on a mission, taking The Bergen Record to the neighbors on my route in my home town of Fair Lawn, New Jersey. I fling the latest edition in the air and hear the satisfying smack of the day’s news landing safely on each customer’s doorstep. It’s my first job, and I pull down $20 in a good week.
Little did I realize I would be doing much the same in my career all these years later.
Newspapers gripped my attention early. When America sent its first astronauts into space, I bought all the newspapers as keepsakes. Back then, New York City had no fewer than nine daily newspapers. Yes, nine.
When my grandmother took me to the New York Historical Society as a boy, all I ever wanted to do was go the library there to admire all the old newspapers. I leafed through tabloids and broadsheets from the Civil War and even earlier, soaking up history as told on the fly.
My grandfather got me a subscription to The New York Daily News at my request. Now I could read all about the New York Yankees, game by game, box scores and all. Dick Young wrote a column and Bill Gallo drew the cartoons. I could find out everything I needed to know about Mantle and Maris vying to break Babe Ruth’s home run record.
Around the same time, my grandmother bought me an oversize book that showed front pages from The New York Times covering milestone events. Lincoln’s assassination. The Titanic’s sinking. The dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. I pored over every page, a distant witness to convulsive change captured in the moment.
And then I grew up to be a reporter. My first byline appeared in my junior high school newspaper, and my first full-time job after college was with a weekly community newspaper in Manhattan. Later, I freelanced full-time for 10 years, contributing to newspapers and magazines, including – as it happened – The New York Times and The New York Daily News.
But then, with two children now on board and health insurance costs rising fast, I again needed to be gainfully employed. So I took a job in public relations. I never expected to go into public relations. I also never wanted to go into public relations.
But as I soon learned, public relations played an important role in delivering the news. Indeed, public relations gave you the opportunity to hear about the news before almost everyone else – before it hit the papers and reached the public and officially became News.
And so for 26 years now, I’ve routinely gotten the scoop. About the philanthropist who pledged to donate $28 million to a cancer facility. About the lawyer who dared, on principle, to decline an opportunity to represent reputed mobster John Gotti. And, yes, about the ex-aristocrat who assaulted her high-society rival at a jet-set party with a champagne glass. And all that happened at my first PR job, at a firm with a staff of three.
Later, representing the maker of an anti-snoring product, I got to spread the news that the world’s loudest snorer according to the Guinness Book of World Records had agreed to endorse it because it had stopped his jackhammer-loud snoring.
Later still, I joined big PR agencies, and handled big clients with big news. Pharmaceutical companies receiving FDA approval for a long-term treatment for asthma. Educational campaigns about arthritis, heart disease and high cholesterol starring Debbie Reynolds, Dick Clark and the former Olympian Bruce (now Caitlyn) Jenner. Oh, and more recently we touted the latest accomplishments of a nonprofit organization known as the American Cancer Society.
Our clients give us the exclusive first. Then they trust us, count on us, to figure out the right story to tell and how to tell it right and do so at the right time with the right media target. And then get results. Tangible, quantifiable results. As in an article in a newspaper.
We go into public relations to advance all kinds of motives. Yes, I wanted to make a good living. I wanted to do something important. And I certainly wanted to keep writing and playing reporter.
But getting the news first, and then putting it out there – that’s something special. It still gives me a rush. Others in our profession may feel the same. All these years later, after all, news is still news, however it’s distributed, whether by smoke signal, drums, town crier, carrier pigeon or Instagram. The means of transmission has changed, but the mission remains the same.
With fake news gaining prominence, facts matter more than ever. And so does the truth.
So as it turns out, I’m still pedaling away on my daily rounds, the Internet now the bicycle I ride. I’m still devoting my days to delivering the news, still a paper boy at heart.
Bob Brody is a media strategist and editorial specialist with Powell Tate, a division of Weber Shandwick. He is the author of the upcoming memoir, Playing Catch with Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes Of Age.