by STEVE WINSTON
(reprinted by popular demand)
The recent announcement that AMI, parent company of “The National Enquirer,” had declared bankruptcy, struck me in a different way than it might have struck you. Because I once worked there. Yes, it’s true. I admit it. For two weeks, many years ago, I worked at “The National Enquirer.”
My story started in a raging blizzard that tied up the whole Northeast. We had three feet of snow n Hartford, CT. I was looking out the window at the blizzard that night, while talking on the phone with my younger brother in Philadelphia…who was looking out his window at the blizzard. And we both decided, then and there, that we were going to get jobs in Florida.
Bobby did, within a month. Just about that time, I was sitting in my downtown apartment on a miserable late-winter day, looking out at the city’s skyline, while glancing distractedly through an issue of “Editor & Publisher.” I came to the classified section. And then I saw it.
It was a half-page ad for an Editor. For “The National Enquirer.” In a place called Lantana. Lantana, Florida! And they were offering a salary of $52,000 – very big money for a young guy all those years ago.
I dashed off a resume and letter to them. And promptly forgot all about it. So, when they called a week or so later to invite me down to Florida for an interview, it took me a minute to remember.
I’ll never forget sitting on the runway at Hartford-Bradley International Airport a few days later at 6 in the morning, looking out at the pitch-black, watching the sleet and snow smash against my window. Three hours later, I landed in West Palm Beach, and walked out of the terminal into a day with 76 degrees, swaying palm trees, and the bluest sky I’d ever seen.
In those days, the executives at The Enquirer were mostly British (if you’ve ever seen the big newspapers in Britain, you know why). And so I found myself being interviewed by an Editor from Britain named “Ian” (which seemed to be the name of just about every other Editor there, as well).
The interview was not particularly scintillating, I thought. Until mid-afternoon.
Then, all hell broke loose. Police suddenly barged in from two sides of the building. Women started screaming. Men started running.
And the first hint I had that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, Dorothy, was when I asked “Ian” what was going on, and he looked at me and said, “Oh, nothing.”
It wasn’t long before I was told – by one of the people there – that some of the Brits did not have green cards. And that one of the green-cardless Brits had apparently offered Elvis’ cousin a goodly amount of money if he would open the casket and let the Brit take a few pictures.
By this time I was having trouble keeping a straight face. Much to my amazement, Ian, at the end of the interview, invited me back for a two-week mutual look-see. They’d put me up in a beachfront hotel. They’d pay all my transportation, lodging, and food costs. And, oh, yes, they’d also pay me, at the pay-rate for the Editor job…a thousand a week.
So I took a two-week leave from my job in Hartford and found myself back in Florida.
It was an interesting experience, to say the least. Say what you will about the Enquirer, in its own way, it did push the journalistic envelope. It did have some talented – and very dogged – journalists. And it ended up “scooping” mainstream media on some major stories of the nineties and 2000’s…stories that often had an enormous effect on American society and politics. But I decided, while there, that I preferred traditional journalism…despite the $52,000 salary.
So, toward the end of the two weeks, during lunchtime, I walked in off the street to the Palm Beach Post. And they hired me as a reporter – for $12,000.
Soon after, I was on my way back down to Florida for the third – and last – time, in an ugly green Mazda with everything I owned hanging out the sides. And in a way, everything that’s happened in my life since then has been because of “The National Enquirer.” Without the Enquirer, it probably would have turned out very differently.
AMI and “The National Enquirer” may or may not survive reorganization. But they’ll always be a major reason that my life turned out as it did. And that the only snow I see now is at the top of the mountains I climb.
Steve Winston (www.stevewinston.com) has written/contributed to 16 books, and his articles have appeared in major media all over the world. In pursuit of “The Story,” he’s been shot at in Northern Ireland, been a cowboy in Arizona, jumped into an alligator pit in the Everglades, trained in the jungle with a rebel militia, flown World War II fighter-planes in aerial “combat,” climbed 15,000-foot mountains, trekked glaciers in Alaska, explored ice caves in the Alps, and driven an ATV to the top of an 11,000-foot peak in the Rockies, and then – even scarier! – back down again, with the wheels hanging over the edge of a cliff with a 4,000-foot vertical drop. Steve Winston can be contacted at .