Tag Archives: newspapers

Happy birthday, Dad. Wish you were here.

That's my dad with the notebook in his lap, doing what he did best: reporting.

That’s my dad with the notebook in his lap, doing what he did best: reporting.

Ever wonder what makes a person want to write, or want to be good at it? My dad said a good reporter never lets go of the curiosity, never lets politeness get in the way of a story – but also never lets a story get in the way of basic courtesy and humanity. In my humble opinion, modern journalism allows the story to trample humanity far too often.

We used to go for drives, just my dad and me, and we would talk. He told me about newspapering, reminisced sometimes for the entire ride. It was less a conversation than it was a feast of words.

He could paint such vivid word pictures that often I could not see the landscape through which we drove for all of the images crowding my mind.

He never talked down to me, which sometimes left me struggling to decipher a word by its context.

It seems as though I’ve known the four Ws (who, what, when, where – you all know them) all my life, along with that important H (how). Applying them was second nature even when I was in grammar school. Chasing a story with him, I could often tell him some or all of the Ws of it, which pleased him no end. And of course, it pleased me no end to have pleased my dad.

I wonder often if my personal philosophies were formed less by my own observations and judgments but by his. I can’t recall the specifics of our talks anymore. He died in 1968, and time erodes so many memories.

He was utterly irreverent, could make me sick from laughter or weep with empathy. He disliked pretension, subterfuge, hypocrisy and injustice – especially injustice. To him, family was the highest priority.

My siblings have different philosophies than I do, and although he talked with them and wrote letters when one of them was away, I was the one who went with him on stories most often. And on our long drives, I knew I was the world’s luckiest child.

We had an ongoing squirt gun battle, with only one gun. Whoever had it would sneak up and shoot the other, elude capture and hide the gun. Eventually, the victim would discover the gun’s hiding place, reload it and the game was back on. Months could pass between battles. I once spent the better part of an hour crawling through kitchen and dining room to the living room, to rise up behind his easy chair and blast him in the back of the neck. Boy, did I pay for that one! He trapped me in a closet and of course, I emptied the water pistol at him. But he had a turkey baster and a pitcher of water in his hands. Cheating was fair in our game.

Irreverence – dad went to as many of my choral concerts as he could. He would sit in the  audience and make hideous faces, cracking up not just me, but anyone else in the chorus who caught his act.

There was never a doubt in my mind – and maybe not in his, though he never said – that I would follow in his footsteps. He wanted to write a novel, something that I don’t think even my mother knew. After he died, I looked everywhere, because I’d once seen several pages of a rough draft. I don’t know if I wanted to simply read it, or to finish it for him. But it was gone.  He hadn’t had much time to work on it, anyway, working two jobs to support us until the day he died. Perhaps he chucked it. I don’t know.

That was part of why many of our talks were in the dead of night. He got home at exactly 12:20 a.m. from his second job as a copy editor at the Columbus Enquirer, and there I often was, waiting, even on school nights. We’d talk, eat peanut butter and tomato sandwiches, and eventually he would remember that I was supposed to be asleep. He’d send me to bed, but never rebuked me for waiting up.

All these years later, I often look at the clock and it’s 12:20 a.m. Funny how that happens.

I don’t know if he built a love of writing in me, or if he recognized it and simply tried to help my love blossom. He never said, and it never occurred to me – and there wasn’t enough time – to ask.I’m just glad that I have it, and glad of the things he taught me.

Like him, I became a journalist, and like him, may never see a novel published, though unlike him, I’ve written several. (NOTE: this was written in 1998, long before I published Memory’s Child)

I’m glad I had him, even if he did lie when he said freckles were beautiful. Even if he lied when he said his was transferring some of his freckles to my face when he grabbed me up and rubbed his stubbly face against my cheeks while I squealed and squirmed.

He’s been gone more than three-quarters of my life and I miss him still. He would have been 100 today. Happy birthday, Dad.

Nostalgia

Last night, I was thinking about jargon – specifically, newspaper jargon. So much has changed just since I started in the newsroom 30 years ago. Goodness, 30 years ago? My, how time flies!

Well, that’s roughly a generation, isn’t it? I suppose the changes aren’t spectacular when you look at it that way. Still, I don’t like change.

The newspaper where I cut my teeth was using the term “library” when I got there, so I don’t know if they ever called it a morgue. My father, also a journalist, called it that. When I first started at the newspaper, I fully expected to make use of its morgue. But, no, they had a library. I’m still miffed.

Back then, we didn’t have “captions.” Captions were for the slicks (magazines). We wrote cutlines and skel lines to explain what a photo was about. Nobody seems to know what a skel line is anymore, and you rarely hear anyone speak of cutlines. It’s all captions, now. I’m miffed about that, too.

In addition to jargon, other changes in the newspaper world distress me no end. People actually have to pay to have an obituary run in the newspaper. Pardon my French, but what the hell? Obits are news and nobody pays for other types of news in the newspaper. Imagine readers having to pay for a reporter to write up the local city council meeting or take photos of a car crash. I realize the industry is flopping along on the road, trying to catch up with the Internet and avoid total collapse, but I never thought I’d see the day when you had to pay for a regular obit in the newspaper. That’s shameful, if you ask me. You didn’t ask, but there it is. Take it or leave it.

Newspaper jargon is colorful and unique. Or at least, it was. I do see writers still use the word “lede,” though I never much liked that one. I mentioned a “double truck” to an editor a few years ago and she didn’t know what I was talking about.

I’ve already waxed nostalgic over the clacking of typewriters, clatter of the teletypes, thunder of presses and the scent of ink. The latter hasn’t changed, at least. Newspapers still use ink – those that print their own stuff, at least. Some smaller papers farm out the printing rather than buy their own press. That makes good economic sense, but still….

Nope, I don’t like change. Not in most areas, anyway. I have to admit, though, that the ability to blog freely, research broadly, become immersed in social networking sites and get involved in indie publishing is exquisitely exciting.

The Internet has wrought colossal changes in the way freelance and independent writers work and opened up an entire universe of great opportunities. That’s the kind of change I can live with.

Writing Ambience

Do you play music while you write? Watch television? Or do you need complete silence so your ideas can germinate and flower in your mind?

We were sitting around the dining room table, enjoying Thanksgiving dinner when the phone rang. It was someone from the Columbus Enquirer. I can’t remember who called – probably the newspaper’s city editor – but when asked if I could come in, I said yes.

It was my first newspaper job, and that was my first day. I was frightened, ecstatic, eager and reluctant – would they realize I didn’t know anything?

The newsroom was a large, open space in 1973. Not many people were working, but it was pretty noisy. Back then, we had manual typewriters and an endless supply of coarse, tan-colored newsprint. Typewriters clacked around the room at different speeds, depending on how well the writing was going, a symphony of sound. A good copy editor could tell by listening which reporter’s

I began my newspaper career getting comfortable with an old Royal typewriter, much like this one. Photo courtesy of Joseph Hart, Australia.

copy was going to be late.

We had a radio for communicating with reporters out in their company cars, and a scanner that spoke in arcane codes only the police reporter and the editors understood. 10-4 was the only one I could decipher.

Copy editors marked copy with fat grease pencils and typesetters in the bowels of the building turned our deathless prose into something printable.

The process and the atmosphere weren’t new to me; my father had been a copy editor at the Enquirer, and an editor at other newspapers. I’d visited them now and then, and toured the Enquirer several times during school field trips.

I learned young how to read backwards from watching my father help typeset the Morning Star newspaper on Okinawa.

I loved the Enquirer, and not just because on that Thanksgiving day I found myself sitting two feet from the copy desk where my father, who died five years earlier, had sat.

Audible, though muffled, a bank of teletype machines rattled away in a small room nearby. If something especially important came over the wire, the teletypes sounded an alarm easily heard in the newsroom.

Reporters banged away on heavy manual typewriters, muttering to themselves or yelling to a distant coworker or the room in general. How do you spell this? What’s the name of the college dean? When was that bridge built?

Looking up information back then wasn’t quite as easy as it is now.

The copy editor grimly assaulted long sheets of taped-together copy with his grease pencil, raising his head now and then to question the writer about a certain fact, or to point out a spelling or grammar mistake, along with a plea – or an order – never to make that mistake again.

That’s how I learned all right is two words. Even though alright is trying to push its way into proper usage, I will never type it except as an example. I learned my lesson, loud and clear, way back then.

The only quiet place was the library, which was called a morgue when my father first took me to visit a newspaper. The managing editor had a walled-off, glassed-in office in one corner of the newsroom, but it was only marginally quieter than the newsroom itself.

Even high above the huge printing press in the basement, the smell of typewriter and printer ink permeated the atmosphere. When the press roared to life late at night or in the early afternoon (depending on whether it was printing the afternoon Ledger or the early morning Enquirer), the ancient linoleum floors vibrated underfoot. Coffee danced in your mug and pencils sometimes rolled off your desk.

I loved the noise, the smell and the pace. I loved distracted editors, long-suffering but highly skilled photographers, angry copy editors and reporters that ranged from one who thought any questions about a story he was working on meant you were trying to steal it, to one who was the ultimate mentor, and everyone in between.

I loved my job, which at first was writing obituaries. Holidays always bring a flood of obituaries, so my first day was hectic and scary and my training consisted of J. Randolph Murray, the city editor, handing me a newspaper folded to the obituary page. “Write them like this,” he said.

Well, he gave me a bit more guidance than that as I stumbled through the first ones, but there was a newspaper to get out, so hand-holding the newbie was utterly out of the question.

Many years after I left the newspaper business (for good, I thought – I’ve thought that more than a dozen times in my life), I went back to my old stomping ground.

Under the leadership of the late Jack Swift, the building had just been renovated top to bottom. By then, the evening paper, the Columbus Ledger, had merged with my beloved morning paper, and the whole shebang became The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. We used to be rivals working in two separate newsrooms in the same building. Now, the combined, once-daily newspaper is a team effort.

The new newsroom was quiet, with padded dividers and little, open-ended cubicles. If you talked too loudly, a reporter interviewing someone on the phone or trying to write a story shushed you. No one there would dream of calling out a question.

There was carpet and every desk had a computer terminal with a quiet little keyboard for writing or editing stories.

I hated it.

One of my writing friends, indie author Casey Freeland, posted on Facebook about an app that lets you “type” on an old manual typewriter, complete with the clacking sounds.The post set off this little trip down Memory Lane. Thank you, Casey!

What he posted looks like fun. But what I need in order to be truly productive is the constant noise of a dozen manual typewriters, people talking on the phone, yelling across the room, an occasional burst of profanity, the intermittent sssssss-WHUMP of a pneumatic tube, and the distant chatter of teletype machines working tirelessly inside their own little room.

Is there an app for that?