Eric D. Snider: Boy Journalist

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I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 5, but I didn’t get my first paid gig until I was twice that old. Our weekly community newspaper, The Lake Elsinore Valley Sun-Tribune, had a student from each of the local schools write a column about news at their school, and I was chosen to represent Elsinore Elementary. I was proud that all of the other elementary schools were covered by sixth graders and I was only in fifth grade.

I was paid by the column inch, which was the style at the time. The rate they offered was 25¢ per inch, or about $2 to $3 per week. I have no idea if this was the going rate for freelancers at a community paper in 1984, or if it was only what they paid dumb kids who didn’t know any better.

5th grade
My 5th grade class picture. I seem to be wearing a “Return of the Jedi” T-shirt, which 1) seems like an odd choice for picture day, and 2) must have been a hand-me-down, because I was barely interested in “Star Wars” and hadn’t seen “Return of the Jedi.”

My teacher, Mrs. Sisco, was instrumental in my getting the job. My recollection is that the sixth grader who was supposed to do it had flaked out, and Mrs. Sisco, already dazzled by my writing talent just a few weeks into the school year, had acted as my agent. For a writing sample, she gave the newspaper editor a project I’d done for Columbus Day, where I wrote a journal in the voice of a stowaway on one of Columbus’ ships. I’m sure it was very clever the way I wove fiction with facts that I’d read in the encyclopedia. “The ship I’m hiding on is very large — no wonder, since it was financed by Queen Isabella of Spain,” that sort of thing.

I met with the editor, a round, mustached man named Dave Miller, once or twice, started writing the column every week, and then, as far as I can recall, never interacted with him again. I always just handed the column to the lady at the front desk at the newspaper office. It’s not like Dave was calling me each week to give me notes on my work.

I wrote 27 columns for the Sun-Tribune between Oct. 17, 1984, and May 29, 1985. I cut them out of the paper every week and saved them in a photo album. I could describe these columns to you, but it would be easier to just let you read them. I’ll provide commentary.

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#1

10/17/1984
Popcorn, ice cream and candy popular
By ERIC D. SNIDER
Elsinore School Student
    Don’t forget the popcorn and ice cream sales! [1] Wednesday is popcorn day (25 cents), and ice cream day is Thursday (30 cents).

Soccer Starts
Oct. 8 was the first day of soccer. There are eight teams, each with 11 players. Games start at 12:20 p.m.

Candy Sales
Nov. 2, the Elsinore Elementary School candy sales will begin and continue through Nov. 15.
Some of the candy includes: Bigger “Krisp,” bigger “Hazelnut,” and new “Milk Chocolate.” [2]
This year, there’s a new prize catalog.
Some prizes include wallets, posters and folders. Grand prizes are bikes, “Ghetto Blasters,” [3] a television set (12-inch black and white), a hair care center, a Mickey Mouse telephone and a remote control robot (you may have seen the commercial on television).
So kids, start making a list of people to sell candy to.

Back to School
Oct. 2 was “Back to School Night” for Elsinore Elementary School.
First, there was a bake sale. Then Gordon Kiefer, school principal, Mrs. Nicky Handy [7] and Dr. Ronald Flora, the superintendent, spoke. After that, all classrooms were open.

Mystery Guest
Friday was a special day for Elsinore Elementary School students for they were treated to a couple of girls dancing to The Pointer Sisters’ “Jump,” and other songs with breakers, such as Marta McKie, dancing to them. [4]
Then the “mystery guest,” came. Who was it? That’s what had made Friday such a special day and had put almost all the fifth and sixth grade girls through a lot of suspense, for one lucky girl was going to dance to the song, “Jitterburg” with … Canyon Lake resident Corky Pigeon! [5]
The girl was Lupe Perez. [6]
NOTES:

[1] My writing career begins with an exclamatory exhortation. “Don’t forget the popcorn and ice cream sales!” Whatever else happens, DON’T FORGET. Never forget.

[2] I delivered these columns handwritten, in pencil, on a piece of notebook paper. I’d drop it off at the newspaper office, and someone would type it into the computer. Then, of course, it would go through the usual editing and publishing process, whatever that was for a weekly community paper with a circulation of 13,500 in 1984. I don’t recall ever having any idea who, exactly, was editing it. All I knew was, I gave it to the lady at the desk by the front door, and then a couple days later it was in the paper.

My point is, I’m almost certain I didn’t put those candy bars in quotation marks, and I don’t know who did.

[3] I definitely wasn’t responsible for these quotation marks, because I didn’t think “ghetto blaster” was a slang term. I thought that’s what a boombox was called. I don’t think I knew the word “boombox.” Anyway, many years later I found out “ghetto blaster” might be kind of a racist term. But what isn’t?

[4] That 37-word sentence is a hot mess. “Breakers” means breakdancers. Again, that’s what we called them on the playground. It didn’t occur to me that adults might not use the same terms we did.

The newspaper came out on Wednesdays. I had to submit the column by the end of the day Friday. For this first one, I actually remember sitting on the curb outside the school writing the end of the column after the event was over. Look at the hustle I had! First week on the job, already turning copy around on tight deadlines.

[5] “Jitterburg” should be “Jitterbug” (newsroom typo), and it should actually be “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” (my bad). Corky Pigeon was a child actor with a recurring role as Ricky Schroeder’s nerdy friend on “Silver Spoons.” He was 14 on the day in question.

[6] The girl was Lupe Perez. A chilling conclusion.

Actually, she was Lupe Castillo, as we’ll find out in my second column, which contains my first correction. The reason I thought her name was Lupe Perez is that she was the sister of a boy whose last name was Perez. Makes sense, right? But now that I think about it, I’m not sure I actually knew that they were siblings, only that Lupe really looked like this boy, and I think maybe I assumed it? Or maybe they really were siblings and had different last names. It was 30 years ago. Cut me some slack.

[7] Oh yeah, that should be Nikki. I knew her from church, where she was just Sister Handy. I should have written that. “Then Sister Handy, from church, I don’t know if you know her, but she spoke…”

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#2

10/24/1984
Halloween fun nears school; election results are told
By ERIC D. SNIDER
Elsinore School Student
    Oct. 31, a Halloween parade will be conducted for all Elsinore Elementary School students. There will be awards in a few different categories.
All classes will have a party and there will be a pumpkin carving contest. Children will be allowed to wear Halloween costumes. It will all certainly be fun. [1]

Book Fair
Oct. 8 to Oct. 12 was book fair week and just about everybody bought something, even me, “Scrooge Snider.” It was easy for me to buy “The Gremlins Storybook” because I used my mom’s money. [2]
The class that bought the most books was Mrs. Sisco’s room 1. [3]

Mime Visits
A mime came to perform for the kids Oct. 9. I would say it was a fun event, but I didn’t like it very much. [4]

Discipline Plan
Mr. Englehardt [5] has a new discipline plan this year. There will be punishment for kids who disobey the rules (tickets, suspension, etc.), as well as rewards for kids who obey the rules (parties and special guests). [6]

March of Dimes
Cathy Hammond came to our school Thursday to talk about the March of Dimes “Read-a-Thon.” [7]
In this money-making, birth-defect-stopping project, we kids can earn medals by reading books. Reading between 7 and 15 books gets a bronze medal, 16 to 24 books earns a silver medal, and 25 books read very much deserves a gold medal.

Officers Elected
Recently, all the upper grade classes (fourth, fifth and sixth), had an election to decide who will be on the student council. Representatives and alternates were chosen from each class and each representative had to fill out a form and get five teachers’ signatures. Then they could start putting up posters, giving out candy and kissing babies. [8]
Here are the student council representatives and what they’re running for:
Michelle McCoy and Deable Rayes, president; Kim McCoy and Casey Coflin, vice president; Kreg McCoy [9] and Tim Chamberlain, treasurer; Krista Brown, historian; Tonya Valles, Melissa Turner and Michelle Ferguson, secretary, and Alisa Meza, “unknown.”
Campaign speeches will be next week. This information was supplied by Kim McCoy. [10]

Two Corrections [11]
Last week I said that the girl who danced with Corky Pigeon was Lupe Perez, but her actual last name is Castillo. I also stated that soccer games begin at 12:20 p.m. Games begin at 12:10 p.m.
NOTES:

[1] It will all certainly be fun.

[2] Why did I cast myself as “Scrooge Snider”? That had no basis in fact. I didn’t spend money, but that was because I didn’t have money, because I was 10.

I did buy “The Gremlins Storybook,” though — this one here, I do believe. I’d seen the movie over the summer and LOVED it. I also had the novelization and can remember discussing it with my teacher, Mrs. Sisco, who said she’d also read it. Though now that I think about it, it seems highly unlikely that Mrs. Sisco would have read the novelization of “Gremlins.” Am I misremembering, or did she really say she had? Anyway.

[3] This just happens to have been my class. Should I have disclosed that in the story? It didn’t affect the reporting. I mean, we DID sell the most books.

[4] This is only my second week writing a news column and already I’ve decided it’s OK to interject my personal opinion.

[5] As noted, my class, Mrs. Sisco’s, was room 1. Room 2 was the other fifth-grade class, Mr. Englehardt. The rooms had a connecting door that we used when the classes got together, which they did frequently. We will hear more of Mr. Englehardt later.

[6] Wait, wait. Slow down. Let me get this straight. Mr. Englehardt’s plan is to administer punishment to rule-breakers and reward those who obey? What a remarkable system! I can see why I felt it was newsworthy.

[7] This so-called “Read-a-Thon,” if you will.

[8] Weirdly specific memory: I recall debating whether I should make the “kissing babies” joke, or whether it was too outright jokey for a news column. Why I thought this might be too much while “money-making, birth-defect-stopping project” was OK, I do not know.

[9] You see here the beginnings of the McCoy political dynasty at Elsinore Elementary. They were our Kennedys. They lived in Canyon Lake (home to such luminaries as TV’s Corky Pigeon), the snooty gated community next to my white-trash Lake Elsinore that shared schools with us. Two girls and a boy, all good-looking, each a year apart. Kim was in my grade. She was one of the very popular girls. I thought she was pretty (everyone did), and I was genuinely terrified of her.

[10] OF COURSE IT WAS.

[11] I can remember being told by someone that I needed to be more careful not to make mistakes like these. But I don’t remember who that person was. My teacher? Someone at the paper? The ghost of Edward R. Murrow? I don’t recall.

But I do know I took it to heart. I became a stickler for accuracy in news stories, and have always considered it a point of pride to get my facts straight. Not that I never made another mistake, of course, but that early lesson has stuck with me. What I mean is, this is why I’m always correcting people.

More to come…