The first time that visiting literary journalism professor Mike Sager applied for a job at the Washington Post, he was turned down. He couldn’t pass the spelling and typing test. After calling relentlessly, the newspaper finally hired him to work in the wire room as a copy boy.
He started his first shift on Sept. 27, 1978 by unceremoniously dropping toner all over the floor. After cleaning up, he was left on his own in the wire room, ripping stories from the teletype machines and sorting them into baskets to be sent off to various departments of the paper.
By 1:50 a.m., the machines had gone quiet and the paper had gone to print. Sager’s first shift at the Washington Post was just about over when he heard the ‘Ding! Ding! Ding!’ that signaled a speed wire was coming in. It was a Reuters wire from Rome: Pope John Paul I had just died after 33 days in office.
Within minutes, the night news editor was on the phone giving the instruction to stop the presses. By 2:10 a.m., the night staff sent the paper back out to print with a new cover page. At that point, Sager was hooked.
Sager put in his time at the Post; he did not have the luxury of cruising into an internship courtesy of a Princeton degree. He was, instead, just a copy boy, with three weeks of law school under his belt and disappointed parents back in Baltimore. When his editors finally allowed him to cover stories, he was assigned to cover the legal system