There was a time when I thought I’d like to be a reporter for a major newspaper. I suppose part of it had to do with the amount of adventure associated with the job, my observing this after reading Superman comic books plus watching Superman cartoons, including the 1950’s television series by the same name starring, George Reeves and Darleen Neill.
Daily Planet investigative reporters, Clark Kent and Lois Lane, had their own expense accounts with free transportation provided by the paper. Best of all, they seemed to spend little time in the office, always being on the go in the crime ravaged city of “Metropolis” searching for a scoop. That unusual word in newspaper lingo means breaking news where a story is concerned.
In the late 1970s, I decided to do a little investigative work of my own, freelance style, wanting to uncover how hippies in Homer, Alaska, could indefinitely survive on unemployment, welfare, and food stamps. In Anchorage and Fairbanks, those social benefits were only good if recipients actively sought work. A person receiving assistance was expected to report back to the Department of Labor – Unemployment Benefits office, weekly, on the places visited, along with bringing in a form with signatures of those employers they talked to.
There were very few jobs in Homer and other small tourist towns during that time, especially come winter. Through a loophole in the rules, welfare recipients could sit on their derrieres all year long, doing as they pleased to their heart’s content while taxpayers paid for these lengthy vacations. Where seeking employment was concerned, all they were required to write down was: No jobs available. I found this out through a welfare fraud investigator in Anchorage that traveled to Homer quite frequently.
My short investigative spiel hit the editorial page in both Anchorage newspapers, with word quickly spreading to Homer, that Michael Hankins had a bone to pick with all of the unemployed people living in town, which wasn’t true. I had singled out hippies in my article, yet for whatever reason a can of worms was opened.
Folks came out of the woodwork incensed that I had the audacity to even question their use of public assistance. I suppose some preachers would equate such hostility as being under conviction. Complete strangers called our house insisting that my wife let them talk to me, including the Homer newspaper and radio station wanting interviews.
After getting a thinly veiled threat from a person saying that he wanted to take me fishing, my tenure as an investigative reporter ended. Worried about retaliation, Joleen asked me to write about less controversial things. I wasn’t so concerned about anything happening to me as I was her and the kids.
This was around the same time The Arizona Republic reporter, Don Bolles, was tragically murdered when his car exploded from a bomb placed underneath it. Bolles was assumed to be hot on the trail of corruption, with a few angry folks not wanting him to print the findings.
Through that one incident alone, it occurred to me that reporting on criminal activities might not be as glamorous as I once thought, and in fact, was perhaps more dangerous than working as a deep-sea diver, with less pay. It was quickly decided that turning wrenches in an automotive repair shop was far safer.
If I had chosen newspaper reporter as my career field, no way would I ever be on the same level as Lois Lane. She did a brilliant job in seeking out front page stories for the Daily Planet and received much praise from her boss, Perry White. It’s easy for me to assume that Mr. Kent took some credit for her success, while at the same time depositing a larger paycheck. Sound familiar?
Without doubt, Clark Kent would be the reporter I best personify. Clark had a unique way of never finishing assignments on time and that’s me going way back. The guy was an expert at using excuses to weasel his way out of work, always claiming he had to take calls from nearby phone booths, leaving poor Lois with the chore of wrapping things up.
Up and coming Daily Planet reporter, Jimmy Olsen, most likely emulated some of Clark’s bad work habits later on in his career, by spending countless hours on a cell phone talking with friends and surfing the web during work hours.
Why the newspaper kept Kent on their payroll in spite of his unsatisfactory job performance is perhaps one of life’s biggest mysteries. Yes, without question, Clark Kent had things figured out to a capital T where shucking responsibility was concerned, much like those Homer hippies did back in the 70s!