Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Days Gone By

Back in the 1980s (yes, that long ago), I was the education reporter for the Wyoming Eagle.  My news experience up to that time was six weeks as the newspaper's proofreader.  (I had been an intern at the local TV station but that entailed watching video second by second, which didn't really count as experience.)  The education reporter position was a new one.  There was no blueprint to follow.  I had to create the job out of whole cloth.  I earned $700 a month gross (yikes).  Looking back, it was one of the best jobs I ever had.

Recently on Facebook, some newsroom buddies and I shared stories, remembering those old days.  Some of us are still in the news business; some of us are not.  The discussion started because of some young journalists' recent experience producing the news the "old way" - you know, via regular layout and cutting and pasting the stories onto the mock-up.  The posting below describes what they did.  It's called "How to Build a Newsroom Time Machine."


My friend Fred - our very talented photographer - said that he still had two pica poles and a Linotype pica pole with the slogan "If it's Linotype it's right!" printed on it. And he thought he had some sizing wheels too, whatever that means.

Reviewing their work caused my journalist friends and me to share stories from yesteryear. I've somewhat sanitized to protect the innocent and not-so innocent.  But here are a few of the stories:

I recalled once when a story got chopped up by our copy editor at the time, and I was trying to salvage the damage, and Don (our editor) went downstairs to see the layout for it, and I followed him, and the story had been bumped because there wasn't enough room for it anyway - in cut-and-paste fashion - and I said that the bumping was an act of God - and I went upstairs, and Don followed me, and he said "in my office" and then told me I couldn't do things like that - you know, follow him and dictate layout - and I said I know, you're right, I'm sorry - and I went back to my desk and burst into tears and everyone wanted to know what horrible thing Don had done.

Linda recalled when she first arrived, and remembered a couple editors in the process that I never knew:

I started as the proofreader under Stan Wyman - cigar-smoking', whiskey-drinkin', cursing SOB. Quite a shock to this church-raised 18-year-old. You learn a lot in a hurry.

Remember Denny [layout guy downstairs] in the backshop? I'd known him for years and came back one summer to work. Susan [news editor] had been hired in the meantime and she was terrified of him! I was back on the proof-reading desk by the hole in the floor in the old building. He was yelling up about something so I went over and yelled back, complete with the odd curse word. Turned around to see the entire news desk transfixed and silent.

"What," asked I?

"You just yelled at Denny?!" said Susan, utterly terrified.

"Of course I yelled at Denny; he was being an ass*(*(?"

It was priceless. The new building was never as fun - too modern and normal.

This caused our friend Fred to remember a Susan and Denny story:

I remember that Susan and Denny had a strange relationship. She wouldn't yell at him. She tried to drive me to drinking with her tirades, but she didn't yell at Denny. The hole in the floor should be written up in a movie script, along with the ropes to lower copy. The old building had a lot more character. I still think the "30" is spray-painted on the back door in the alley, unless someone took care of that.

All of which caused me me to remember my own Denny story -

I loved that old building too - and I yelled at Denny too, once - he wanted my story - my first story! on Neil Young playing the concert for the flood victims - I was adding to Jim's pre-concert story because I'd gone with Fred (to carry cameras, of course) and Don had me write up the first part, talking about the concert - Don hovered, telling me they needed the story downstairs - I said it wasn't ready - all of a sudden, it was gone from the screen - I marched downstairs and said what did he think he was doing!??? the story wasn't READY. Didn't he care about whether the story was ready for print???? Don about fainted. Denny looked at me and kind of laughed - since nobody talked to him like that. Other than Linda, it seems!!

But then Fred ended up with the best set of memories, as he recalled the camaraderie:

I actually met Kerry [another editor] while I was processing film in the old darkroom and we had a power outage. We shook hands over the UPI Photo machine. I could be in a bad mood and Linda or Beth would come through the door with a big smile. One time Linda was ready to kill Don. I just remember how hard we all worked and the team feeling we got from going out on assignments together. I would go home and cry after covering a bad accident unless Jim [the AP reporter] would call about meeting up at the Albany [a bar]. The darkrooms at the old building were magical because Brammer's spirit still lived there... [M]any people ended up in my darkroom in tears and it was like a time-out room for the editors. I even remember Kurt Moeller talking to me about SafeCard and his award-winning investigation in the new darkroom. We all had some good times on the roof of the new Treagle Building. I wonder if Bob M. [the publisher] ever realized that some of us snuck wine up there, on his California deck? ...  [All the editors] used to let me use my stereo boombox in the darkrooms, so it was a different world. There was nothing like it. People used to come in and out, especially after the first run was on the press. I don't think I will ever have another job like the newspaper years. I used to have some excellent discussions in the darkrooms... I miss processing film by hand, but I don't miss the chemicals....

Gosh it was great.  Or maybe that is just the way we remember it.


Linda said...

I think the "not-so-innocent" is probably most accurate :).

sharon bollinger said...

I remember being "home base" occasionally for Beth and Fred when they were out tracking down a story or on their way back to the office. They usually stopped by right at dinnertime. (That was back in the days when I still cooked.)I loved being part of the "news business."

Beth Bollinger said...

You were the one who gave us the big scoop on the resignation of the school superintendent, Mom. I had gone home; the local late news was on; suddenly the phone rang at the news room at the paper; Linda (I think Linda?) answered the phone and started relaying the blow-by-blow news; Don said, "Who are you talking to?" And Linda said, "Beth's mom!" Don said "Get Beth back down here!" And I spent the next hour calling school board members to get their comments. We could not get confirmation of the resignation. Don said that, without confirmation, we couldn't report it as news. We ended up reporting that Channel 5 reported that the school superintendent had resigned. There was a paper to get out for the next morning, after all. I learned a lot back then, about ethics and responsibility.