“Champion of the non-geeks.”
Question: How did you get into your line of work?
Walt Mossberg: Well I went to a public high school in Warwick, Rhode Island. And you know I was a little bit involved in journalism in the school, but not much. And the Providence Journal Bulletin, which was the name of the newspaper – still . . . today I think it’s just the Providence Journal – was a, you know, a small city newspaper probably with a circulation of a couple of hundred thousand. So it wasn’t a tiny town newspaper, but it obviously wasn’t a major metropolitan city. But it was a very high quality newspaper. It was well regarded. It had won some Pulitzer prizes. People who had worked there had gone on to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and places like that. But they had a problem. They had an economic problem, which is afternoon newspapers were dying. They couldn’t get a lot of advertising for their afternoon newspapers. And in particular they had a Saturday afternoon newspaper which, you know, who reads the newspaper on Saturday afternoons? So they decided to take a bunch of space in that paper and devote it to teenagers, because the other thing that, of course, was going on at that time was establishment authority figures like politicians and newspaper editors were thinking, “We better figure out what’s going on with these students,” because the students were running around having demonstrations and all that ‘60s stuff. So in 19 . . . I guess it must have been ’64 and ’65, they started this experiment. And they gave . . . They provided space for a column for every high school in their metro area. And it was not a democratic process. The English department or the principal or somebody in all these high schools appointed the columnists. And in my case, out of the blue they asked me to do it. And they asked me to do it together with the guy who was, at the time, my best friend in high school. And it’s somebody whose name is now well known. It’s James Woods, the Hollywood actor who went to high school with me. And he and I started to write this little column together. It was a completely uncontroversial column. All of them were. It was just like what was going on at the school; but not really what was going on. It was sort of officially what was going on. And he was then and now very interested in acting. So he dropped out of doing this after about a month and I kept it up on my own. And at the end . . . And I got bitten by the bug of journalism. I used to have to take a bus and go down to the headquarters of the newspaper and turn in my copy. And the editor would . . . Somebody would edit it, and explain to me why they were editing it in a certain way, and how I could improve it and all of that. And it was just kind of exciting to me. And unbeknownst to me, because nobody had told me this, they actually had a prize for the student whose high school column was the best in the area at the end of every school year. And the prize was that you were flown out to Chicago to Northwestern University to the journalism school where they had a “summer institute” they called it. I think they still have it for high school kids interested in becoming reporters and editors. And I won this thing, and it was the most bizarre thing because I didn’t even know it was a contest. And all of a sudden they say, “Hey, you won this.” So I . . . It was my first plane flight. It was my first trip west of Connecticut. And it was my first time really on a college campus. And it was a fabulous experience, and it just sort of cemented my feeling that I wanted to be a journalist.