Globe 150th: WaPo food critic got his start at the Globe in Worthington, Minnesota
"My true start in journalism began with a mop and a bucket at the Worthington Daily Globe, where I was hired as a janitor in junior high school, or so I remember."
“How’d you get into journalism?” people often ask me.
Typically, I skip straight to the part about how I graduated from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in 1983 and landed an entry level job at the Washington Post, where copy aides would do anything to escape sorting mail and answering phones.
When other job postings went up, we seized any opportunity to start climbing a ladder at the legendary publication. Early on, I interviewed to be an assistant to one of the greatest reporters of all time and the Post’s restaurant critic and food editor. Bob Woodward sent me a “thanks, but no thanks” note. Phyllis Richman welcomed me to a world of recipes, cooking and dining rooms.
My fate was sealed. From those early years at the Post, I went on to cover food and restaurants for the Milwaukee Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle Post-Intelligencer and even Microsoft. In 2000, I replaced the woman who hired me as her assistant and became the Post’s food critic.
That’s not the complete story, though. My true start in journalism began with a mop and a bucket at the Worthington Daily Globe, where I was hired as a janitor in junior high school, or so I remember. The job involved cleaning restroom s, scraping sticky (type) paper off floors and taking out trash. Later, I worked with the wry and patient Steve Potts, bundling papers for distribution as copies of the Globe flew off the press. (To this day, the smell of newspaper ink sends me back to the 1970s). Any association with the brand was a good thing, as Martha Stewart might say.
The Globe, guided by Jim Vance, the forward-thinking publisher who was also instrumental in acquiring an airport for Worthington, was such a distinguished publication, the paper was read far beyond the borders of the state and visited by politicians, celebrities and media types from far-flung corners of the world. (Even Soviet journalists came, trailed by puffs of smoke and skepticism after seeing how well middle-class Minnesotans lived.)
As kids on South Shore Drive, my brother John and I sometimes ran out the front door in an attempt to meet the paper boy before he could deliver the day’s news to our home — yes, we competed for early access. The paper was a habit, like watching Walter Cronkite or eating dinner at 5:30. (Hey, this was the Midwest.) Jim and his equally talented wife Florence, a gifted musician, were also my family’s neighbors. Before the Internet, the plugged-in Vances served that function, albeit over the fence. They were Google in flesh and blood.
Mr. Vance hired a stable of stars, or men and women who would go on to become appointment reading. The Globe was rich with talent: the great story-tellers Ray Crippen and Paul Gruchow, cartoonist Bob Artley, photographers Jim Brandenburg and Annie Griffiths, columnists Fredi Lowry, Dorthy Rickers and Mary Beth Blegen were among the many staffers that made the publication indispensable — a treasure, really. Following them in the newspaper not only connected readers to the product, it opened our worlds.
The next time someone asks me how I got in the business, I’m going to start my story from the beginning. Because the Globe whetted my appetite for news, good writing and visuals, setting the bar high for a young dreamer who eventually traded a mop and bucket for paper and pen — and who now looks back with grateful admiration for the introduction to journalism.
By Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Food Critic