Even today I think the newsroom of a daily newspaper is a glamorous place to observe. It might be hard for the casual observer to believe this, as most of the glamor is now hidden behind a screen of technology and electronics.
Looking back into the past I can still see the editorial room as it was when I first started out as a newsman. It was a large, unpartitioned room filled with grouped together desks each holding an Underwood or Remington manual typewriter that was generally clacking away at full speed. The only mechanized machine was the teletype in a corner spilling out reams of copy at regular intervals. The noise level was high.
The only quiet place was in the morgue, sometimes known as the library where files of information more extensive than those of the FBI were cataloged. Civic figures and gang members were intermingled here with the thickness of their files being the only way to determine their importance.
Women members of the staff would be puzzled if I were to call them Sob Sisters, when writing soul wrenching stories about families burned out of their homes and little children grievously injured. But, to my mind they are doing the same job that was a glamorous specialty many years ago.
In New York City at the end of World War II there were six major daily newspapers, each of which had one or more Sob Sisters on the regular staff. Their job was to wring out the greatest amount of tears from a story about babies, widows, or female victims of fate. Before the development of fertility pills, triple or quadruple births were frequently lead stories until the Dionne quintuplets came along. During slack times, the Sob Sister would often double as the society writer.
The Editor, as today, had an unapproachable postion, as much political as journalistic. The City editor was the key man. He sat in the slot position at The Desk, and handed out assignments and reviewed copy. Around the rim of the U-shaped city desk were the rewrite men and some feature writers. You could always tell who was the re-write man because he had a set of headphones instead of the regular earpiece on his phone.
Some of the reporters were never seen in the newsroom. They phoned in their stories to meet one of the deadlines for each of the several daily editions. Re-write would do the actual writing', and somtimes share the by-line. The presses for the paper were downstairs from the newsroom and usually shook the building when they started to run.
Copy had been delivered to the composing room where banks of linotype operators and proofreaders converted the stories into lead type for the presses. Headlines were sometimes set using hand-carved wood type.
On some of the larger papers the headline writer was the only one to do this job.
A constant stream of trucks brought giant rolls of Canadian newsprint which was unloaded and moved to the presses by the burly paper handlers. The presses spewed out bundles of papers into the hands of mailers who directed them to another fleet of trucks that raced the papers to their final destination. Hitting the street first on an important story was the aim of every truck driver in the circulation department.
When the presses started to run, everyone in the newsroom grabbed a copy to read; a typographical error or a misplaced headline, when detected was quickly assessed and if it was offensive, the press was stopped while a pressman climbed up on top to chisel out the offensive word before starting the presses again. When the entire newsroom was satisfied with the edition the presses went up to full speed to complete the run.
The newsroom of today is certainly different. It is quieter, for one thing. The clack of the typewriter is replaced by the click of the computer.
The Editor is less remote, and the reporters are more frequently seen in the newsroom. No more trips to the morgue to hide behind the files; they are now all in each computer. There are no hot-metal squirts in the composing room, and the roar of the presses is far away.
The glamor is there but in a different form. There are no copy boys to send out for coffee, and there is a soft drink machine in the newsroom.
No boys hawking extras, but fuller coverage of local news. Television carries the headlines, but the Newspaper carries the full details. Reporters are more generalist, and stories are received by e-mail rather than over the phone.
Pictures are mostly in color, and more vivid in every way. There used to be a TV program called "Casey the Crime Photographer" who was never bothered by incorrect captions on his photos. Now there is Dave Casey, Chief Photographer. Dorothy Killgallen was the prime Sob Sister in her day, but now there are the women of Hernando Today doing her job when called for.
The Glamor of journalism is still there, but it is not as easy to see as it formerly was. Two competing papers is now the usual thing, and local politics, rather than journalistic excellence often dictates the readers choice.
But in the end, the last word for all of us is in the obituary column. It is there, in the Daily Newspaper, that we will be immortalized.
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