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Saturday, 30 September 2006

Remembering John and the Journal

A Tribute
By Liz Maggio
30 September
A couple of weeks before I learned of John Belmonte's death, long-dormant molecules of neurochemicals that had imprinted in my brain during my NYU days suddenly reactivated, and images of John and our time together on The Washington Square Journal materialised.
At least that's how I imagine what happened. My mom says I have ESP, just like she has, and that I pick up on life changes happening to someone who has had a significant influence on my life. I've never believed that, but it's happening more and more often now, as I slide toward 60.
Maybe hearing the Beatles singing Hey Jude on my car's oldies station triggered those memories. Whenever I hear that song, I flash back to late nights at the White Horse Tavern in the Village drinking beer with John and the Journal staffers Peter Frishauf and Richard Carreño after having put the newspaper to bed.
A few days before Peter tracked me down with the sad news, I told my husband about those memories of John and said that I felt a need to locate him and reconnect. I had even logged onto the NYU alumni website for the first time in my life and found a work address for John. But that's as far as I got. I thought I had time.
I'm honoured that, when talking of John and the Journal, Peter and Richard remember me as being a regular part of the gang. To be honest, I was an irregular, an awkward outsider, a geology major who, as a junior-year transfer to NYU, answered the newspaper's recurring house ad telling me to 'Join Journal.' I needed to do something to feel a part of my new school.
I had no idea how a newspaper was run. I didn't even know what a byline was. And John, Peter, and Richard scared me. They were real reporters—journalism majors. I was so out of place at the Journal that to this day I don’t know why I responded to that ad. But it was a turning point in my life that led to a long, exciting, challenging, and varied career in science writing, and John played a pivotal role.
Here' my John story: He had given me my first real assignment, to write a feature story about La Maison Francaise, the French cultural institute on campus. I interviewed the director and went through her scrap book. I returned to the Journal offices and pounded out my story on a manual typewriter feeling very much a reporter.
I was riding high when I filed the story on John's desk, returning to my usual job of filing clippings from the previous Journal issue in the metal filing cabinet.
Then John called me into his office. He pointed to some statement I had made in the story and wanted to know where it came from; there was no attribution. I told him 'I just assumed.' He didn't let me finish my sentence. I can still hear John yell: 'Never assume anything!' I almost didn't return to the newspaper, but I did. And John's reprimand guides my work today. I've told that story a thousand times. Thank you, John.