We Didn’t Have Much Money But We Did Love the Job

 By William B. Mead

Back in the late 1950s the Richmond, Virginia, bureau of United Press International was housed on the third floor of the Western Union building. Customers would come in the first floor to send telegrams and receive money orders.

The third floor was decidedly low rent, suitable for a UPI bureau. An elevator served floors two and three, but it rarely worked. Chairs were placed on the landings so aging employees of Western Union and other tenants could rest enroute to their offices.

I was one of four UPI staffers. We were young and could handle the stairs. But our bureau—our office space—was small, and hot. It had three desks, two teletype machines, and one window.

Our bureau manager, H.L. “Steve” Stevenson, worked under such a tight budget that he refused to pay us overtime, even when we  routinely worked 60 hours a week. We could have quit but good newspaper jobs were hard to come by.  And we were young and dazzled by the aura of working for a worldwide news service.

The Richmond bureau gathered news from throughout Virginia. Most stories came by telephone from stringers. Given his stringer budget, Steve might pay 50 cents or a dollar for a story. I often wondered why stringers kept calling after opening their monthly UPI envelope and finding a check for 50 cents.

The news director of a radio station in, say, Big Stone Gap might call with the latest homicide among feuding mountain clans. We didn’t have the Hatfields or McCoys but we had their Virginia counterparts.

After one Appalachia shoot-em-up in which two men were killed, I asked the sheriff what the motive was. “Oh, it was just bad blood,” he said. Following up on a story in which a mother drowned her children in a bathtub, I asked the same question. “Not sure,” the sheriff replied. “Here, I’ll put her on the phone.” And he did.

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By Mike Feinsilber

Here’s another story about UPI cheapskatedness. It took place in UPI’s bureau in Washington in the 1960s.

One young staffer loved working for UPI but just couldn’t make ends meet on his UPI paycheck. So he summoned his courage and confronted bureau chief Julius Frandsen with a request for a raise. His clincher: “What’s more, Mr. Frandsen, our dishwasher is broken and I can’t afford to have it fixed.”

Frandsen looked over his rimless glasses and said: “In my house, we don’t have a dishwasher.”

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