John Onoda


My first professional job was as a reporter for the Omaha World-Herald in Omaha, Nebraska; and I remember standing on a street corner the day before starting work and thinking that I had made the biggest mistake in my life.  I knew no one in this strange city, whose culture and ambiance seemed to be a Twilight-Zonish throwback to the 1950’s.  The paper had a bizarre layout that was so strange even the locals referred to it as the “Weird Harold.”  The biggest attraction in town was the local race track with the strange name Ak-Sar-Ben (Nebraska, spelled backwards, get it?)   At the first big party I was invited to, the host had thoughtfully set out a display of tooth floss for the guests to use.

Instead of launching myself onto the fast track to fame and fortune, I had walked right into a career dead-end, or so I thought.

Well, the paper was eccentric, to say the least; but it was small enough to let me be very entrepreneurial and to pursue my own interests.  For example, since I wasn’t meeting any women on my normal assignments, I volunteered to write the weekly fine arts column (which meant I got to hang out at galleries and attend artists’ openings); and as a result met my future wife when I wrote about her work at the local art museum.

I left Omaha after a year and then worked for The Houston Chronicle, the largest newspaper in the South.  For four years I worked all the major news beats — city hall, crime, transportation, etc. — and also did investigative reports.  I loved being a reporter and probably had more on-the-job exhilaration at this job than at any other point in my career.  Texas is just full of colorful characters and you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up occurrences, so practicing journalism there is a license to live life to the fullest.

I switched to public relations for the money, pure and simple.  As a reporter, I really didn’t know anything about PR except like everyone else in the newsroom I held flacks in casual disdain while envying them their corporate credit cards and higher salaries.  I thought the transition would be simple since I believed all either profession required was listening and writing.  I was wrong and came close to being fired my first year on the job, working for Mitchell Energy & Development Corp. the largest independent oil and gas company, back in the 1980’s.

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