Tabloid Reporter to the Stars
by Eric James Stone
When I was fired after ten years as a science reporter for the New York Times, the
editor told me I'd never get a job with a decent paper again. He was right, at first:
no one wanted to hire a reporter who had taken bribes to write a series of articles
about a non-existent technology in order to inflate the value of a company being
used in a stock swindle -- even if I had managed to get off without serving time.
And that's the only reason I took the job with the Midnight Observer tabloid.
They didn't care that I'd made up a news story -- they were impressed that I'd
managed to write something that had fooled experts for over a year. So began my
new career under the pseudonym of Dr. Lance Jorgensen. The doctorate was
phony, of course, and I never did decide what it was in. I worked that gig for three
years before I caught the break that let me get back into real journalism.
When the United Nations Space Agency decided to hold a lottery to choose a
reporter to travel on board the first interstellar ship, they set strict qualifications: a
college degree in journalism, at least five years of experience as a science reporter,
and current employment with a periodical or news show with circulation or
viewership of at least one million.
Technically, I qualified. So I entered. And a random number generator on an
UNSA computer picked my number.
Less than five minutes after UNSA announced the crew of the Starfarer I,
including yours truly as the only journalist, the calls began. The first was from my
old editor at the Times. He wanted me back on an exclusive basis -- I could name
my own price. I'll admit I was bitter: I told him my price was full ownership of
the paper, and that I'd fire him as soon as I had it. He sputtered; I hung up.
By the end of that week, I had a TV deal with CNN and a print/web deal with the
Washington Post. And so, without a gram of regret, Dr. Lance Jorgensen gave the
Midnight Observer his two weeks' notice. I was once again Lawrence Jensen,
A lot of journalists squawked that I didn't deserve to be on the mission because of
my scrape with the law, even if I had managed to avoid a conviction by turning
state's evidence. But the rules were on my side for a change: my degree from the
Columbia School of Journalism, my experience at the Times, and the Midnight
Observer's seven-million-plus circulation fit the letter, if not the spirit, of the
rules. Despite their fervent wishes, I made it through spaceflight training without
a hitch, and proudly boarded the Starfarer as the world looked on.
This mission was my chance for redemption. I'd made one big mistake, and I
planned to make up for it with accurate, well-written science reporting that made
the wonders of space travel understandable to everyone. I had loved science since
I was a kid; if I'd had the brains to do the math I might have chosen a career as a
scientist instead of a reporter. Reporting this mission was my dream job, and I
was determined not to mess things up.
The day we launched, the Midnight Observer ran a cover story claiming that I had
been selected for this mission because while working undercover for them I had
already met the aliens the Starfarer would encounter, and they had requested that I
serve as Earth's ambassador. They had even 'shopped a picture of me shaking
hands with a stereotypical short, gray, bald, bulge-headed alien.
During all two hundred and twenty-three days of hyperspace travel, my crewmates
refused to let me live that down.
Fortunately, when we found the aliens, they didn't look anything like that picture.