Home > The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba(2)

The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba(2)
Author: Chanel Cleeton

   I tried on several outfits before I settled on this one: a sensible white dress with a light blue stripe, fine enough for such a meeting. For all of his success, the rumors that his family in Hungary was wealthy before he arrived in the United States, Pulitzer is a self-made man who understands the divide between rich and poor more than most, considering he’s experienced both strata.

   The man leads me into Pulitzer’s office and announces me before shutting the door behind me, leaving me alone with the newspaperman.

   Pulitzer rises from his desk for a moment until I take a seat, and then he follows suit after offering a polite greeting.

   Pulitzer is a tall, slim man with a full head of red hair and a matching beard. His career in New York is distinguished—he served as a politician before he began running the World. Like my father, he fought with the northern states in the war. Pulitzer had been pulling back from his newspaper’s daily operations, but that was before William Randolph Hearst announced his presence on the scene, and the man who was an unmatched Goliath in New York journalism gained a competitor. In the days when Pulitzer anticipated retiring from professional life, he’s unexpectedly forced to wage a war for his paper’s supremacy.

   “Thank you for agreeing to meet with me, Mr. Pulitzer.”

   “I was most intrigued by your letter. I admired your father a great deal when we served in the war together. I was sorry to hear of his death.”

   There’s a pang at the mention of my father’s passing, one that hasn’t quite faded in the years since I lost him. I’m not proud that I’ve used their past friendship to secure this meeting, but the competition for a job as a reporter is fierce—particularly at a paper as popular as the World—and since my gender is already a hurdle I must overcome, why not even the odds a bit?

   “I confess, I was surprised when you asked for this appointment. While I admired your father when we fought alongside each other, it’s been many years. How may I help you, Miss Harrington?”

   “I’m here for a job if you have one. As a reporter. I’ve spent the last few years writing for smaller papers, getting experience where I could.” I gesture to the leather folio in my lap. “I’ve brought samples of my work if you’d like to look at them. They’re not necessarily the kinds of stories I want to cover, but they’re a start.”

   “Why do you wish to work here, Miss Harrington?” Pulitzer asks, making no move to take the folio from me.

   “Because of the stories you investigate, the impact you have. The World has one of the largest circulations in the world.”

   Indeed, Mr. Pulitzer has just slashed the World’s price to one cent, saying he prefers power to profits, circulation the measure by which success is currently judged.

   “You have the opportunity to reach readers, to bring about change, to help people who desperately need assistance,” I add. “I’ve admired the work you’ve done for years. You’ve long set the tone the rest of the New York newspaper industry follows. You’ve filled a gap in the news, given a voice to people who wouldn’t have otherwise had one. I’ve read the articles you wrote when you were a reporter yourself in St. Louis, and I admire the manner in which you address society’s ills. You’ve revolutionized the newspaper. I want to be part of that.”

   “That’s all fine and good, but why should I hire you? What would you bring to the World that someone else wouldn’t?”

   “My gender, for one. A woman knows what it’s like to be pushed to society’s margins. There are some who might argue that a woman cannot do this job as effectively as a man. They would be wrong. Nellie Bly has proven that. You did, too, when you hired her.”

   “And what do you know of Nellie Bly?”

   “You gave her a chance when others wouldn’t.”

   “Cockerill gave her a chance,” he replies, referring to his editor.

   “With all due respect, Mr. Pulitzer, we both know this is your paper. You saw something in Nellie Bly. And now she’s gone, and you need another reporter who can take on the kinds of stories she did and can go places your male journalists can’t. What she accomplished at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum”—the words “lunatic asylum” fall distastefully from my mouth—“on Blackwell’s Island, going undercover like that, was nothing short of extraordinary. Those women’s lives have been changed because of Miss Bly’s courage and her daring. Those placards out there, the philosophy with which you run your newsroom—I promise to uphold it every single day I work for you.”

   Pulitzer leans back in his chair. “You’re plucky like Bly, I’ll give you that.”

   “I am.”

   “Your stepfather is Henry Shelton, isn’t he?” Pulitzer asks.

   “He is.”

   “And how does he feel about his stepdaughter sullying the family name with something as common as work—as a reporter no less? Considering how the papers are vilified these days, I’d imagine he wants something very different for you.”

   “He isn’t pleased,” I admit.

   Pulitzer is silent for a beat. “I have to say, I admire your gumption for coming here.”

   I take a deep breath, hope filling me. This is it. The chance I’ve been waiting for to prove myself. I’ve already thought of a list of articles I want to write, can see my name on the byline—

   “That said, we already have more stunt girl reporters than we need,” Pulitzer adds, sending the hope billowing inside me crashing down. “Nellie Bly is coming back to write a series of articles for us. The move to Chicago didn’t work out for her.” He shrugs. “Talented as you may be—you’re no Nellie.”

   I bite my tongue, suppressing the desire to point out that they already have more than one male investigative reporter, but that didn’t stop them from hiring scores more.

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