I was a sports writer for the daily newspaper The Home News in New Brunswick, New Jersey from October 1970 to September 1974. The newspaper was owned by the Home News Publishing Company.
I would have never thought that starting a career in journalism I would first have to go through delivering coffees, picking up mail and buying Havana cigars for the boss.
Yet that was the case when I answered a classified ad for the position of copy boy at The Home News back in the summer of 1969.
Wow, I thought, this was my opportunity to make it into professional journalism, just having graduated from New Brunswick High School where I worked two years on the monthly school newspaper (Brunswick Highlights) as sports editor.
Bring me my assignments! I'm ready to take the Pulitzer Prize!
But wait, a copy boy doesn't mean that you do any journalism work.
First, you have to pick up a sack of mail from the New Brunswick Post Office, then come into the office at 123 How Lane and sort the hundreds of envelopes and deliver to the proper departments.
You also have to listen to the WCTC-AM radio newscast in the managing editor's (Ralph Williamson) office and jot down the details for the editor on the shift.
Then, once in a while, rip off the wire copy from The Associated Press teletype machines and given them to the proper departments.
And later in the evening, take orders for coffees and snacks from all the employees (including the composing room).
That amounted to some 30 coffees I would have to deliver from the local McDonald's fast-food chain, in addition to a number of hamburgers, fries, etc.
And, not to forget, pick up another 20 or so copies of the New York Daily News from the Albany Street news stand to distribute to my "customers," mostly the composing room staff, and lastly a couple of cigars for Mr. Williamson.
Then there was always news copy to pick up from our reporters at the Middlesex County courthouse in New Brunswick and the Somerset County report that was left at the Bound Brook police station.
I was doing my job so well, that no one at The Home News had any thoughts of asking me to do any writing.
So I took matters into my own hands. It took me more than a year to find enough guts to go over to sports editor Jack Oakley and beg him to allow me to write a story.
He gave me that opportunity, and I will always thank him for that.
My first byline for The Home News came on October 31, 1970, when I covered the Rutgers University vs. Delaware University freshman football game.
I sighed with relief to see my name spelled correctly (I'm sure through the years I have the composing room people a lot of headaches with that long last name) in my first official byline for the newspaper. I was listed as a Home News Correspondent.
From then on, I would be given a number of sports stories to write, including many that I was also covering for Rutgers Daily Targum, the Rutgers University daily newspaper. I was attending Rutgers University from 1969 to 1973 earning my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Journalism.
I continued working both as a copy boy (or should it be copy man, now) and a sports writer until midway through 1974.
In between doing my copy boy chores, I would rattle away on the typewriter in the women's page department (they usually were not working when I was there) with sports stories, mostly high school football and basketball games.
"Economopoulos, if you can't spell it, don't use it!" I would often hear shouted across the newsroom by Oakley (my, how I could have used spell checkers then).
Or if Oakley was in a rush to get my story he would shout: "Economopoulos, put a period on it!"
While I may have first been hired by The Home News in 1969, fresh out of high school, being a rabid reader of the newspaper all my life I began writing letters to the editor to the paper during my high school days, a number of which were published starting in January 1966, dealing with a variety of issues (images towards end of this page).
My first contact with The Home News came in the summer of 1968 when I was involved in the Middlesex County Fair News, the daily one-sheet newspaper co-produced by New Brunswick High School and St. Peter's High School journalism students for the fair goers.
In March 1968 my brother and I happened to come across a head-on car accident in Woodbridge, New Jersey and with my Polaroid camera I snapped a photo which I sold to The Home News.
And in June 1969 an article in The Home News was written about high school students looking for summer jobs and I was included.
A front page story was written about me in The Home News on July 10, 1965, with the headline Out-of-Towners Rally to Save Kilmer Home, But City Residents Lag, written by John Pribish.
The article began: "The recent publicity of the planned demolition of Joyce Kilmer's birthplace has sparked varied response in the drive to preserve the two-story frame dwelling as a national shrine to the poet-soldier."
"Ironically, only one contribution has been made by a New Brunswick resident to the fund aimed at saving the home from the demolition crew.
"It came from 14-year-old Louis Economopoulos of 276 Delevan St., who donated one dollar.
"The youth wrote: 'I am a poem lover. Please don't tear down the famous landmark of Joyce Kilmer. I don't want to see it as a parking lot. Why don't you ask all the people in New Brunswick to contribute some money?'"
In July 1974, I happened to be on vacation in Greece and to my luck, the invasion of Cyprus by Turkish troops occurred and that was followed by the end of the seven-year military dictatorship in Greece. My journalistic spirit led me to file stories for The Home News from Athens on my experiences, which led to one front-page story. It was difficult explaining to my bosses at The Home News, however, the big telephone bill.
Needless to say, I spent all my vacation money on the call, which turned out to be 9,600 drachmas (or $322 then).
The highlight of my career at The Home News was another front page byline story on Jan. 29, 1971, which appeared with a photo I also took dealing with my personal account of climbing Mt. Washington in New Hampshire in the winter.
The sidebar feature came after four Rutgers University climbers were lost (and later found alive) on the treacherous mountain. That month I was presented the publisher's award by The Home News, given every month for the best story, headline, etc.
Another highlight was covering the special celebrity charity softball game on July 20, 1973, for The Home News, at which time the singing Carpenters team beat local media staff, which included Oakley. The game was played at Roosevelt Park in Edison.
More than 7,000 spectators attended the game, and $9,000 was raised for the American Cancer Society.
One of the lowlights of my career at The Home News was my June 27, 1971, story on soccer superstar Pele coming to Jersey City to play an exhibition game with his Santos Brazil team. My byline was printed upside down! (above image).
I left The Home News, and not because of my upside down byline, but because there was never an opening for a full time sports writer.
That opportunity came in the summer of 1974, when The News Tribune - also known as TNT - offered a part-time job as a sports writer.
But more about that in The News Tribune section.
Copyright 2020 by Louis T. Economopoulos