I started in the newspaper business in 1972, when I was a junior in high school. In those days, we sat down at a typewriter to do our stories. On plain paper. Then we sent the copy, as we called it in those days, to an editor. The editor then sent it off to someone who got it ready for the newspaper.
I don’t know exactly how the process worked. But I started in the days of hot type, when putting out a
newspaper on a daily basis was a work of art. Frankly, I’m not sure how newspapers did it in those days.
Technology, as you’re probably aware, has taken over the world. It has made my job significantly easier. We still have newspapers, but they are enhanced now by websites and the kind of technology that makes the industry more efficient, definitely, but probably also less romantic.
I remember going on the road to cover games in those early days, especially after I started at The Eagle in 1974. Now, I just take my computer bag, loaded with notebooks and pens and other materials I need. But it’s one bag and usually pretty compact.
Back in the day it was a lot different.
I had to carry a typewriter everywhere I went. And while there were portable typewriters, it still was at least a 10-pound proposition.
But the real drag was carrying what was called a telecopier, which is the unit we used to get the story back to the desk electronically. It was really just an early version of a fax machine, though much heavier and hard to transport that any fax machine I’ve ever seen.
After writing a story on our typewriters, we inserted the paper into the telecopier, which would whirl around for three or four minutes and transport the story back to a computer system at The Eagle. It was hardly advanced and from a bygone era.
So I had written the story and sent it back to the desk. Then somebody there had to type in the story I had just written, write a headline and get it into type.
Now I simply use writing and editing system that takes many of the steps out of the process. As long as I have a laptop, I’m good to go.
Those telecopiers were bulky and temperamental. They didn’t always work and when they did, getting the paper inserted just right was a hassle.
I remember being with Bill Hodge, at the time a long-time and heralded sports writing veteran, at a Kansas State game at Ahearn Fieldhouse back in the day. Hodge was a crusty old guy – kind of like I am now. And he was struggling with what then was new technology. He was having trouble with his telecopier.
And, of course, he was on a tight deadline after a night game. So there was a rush.
I was scared to death of Hodge in those days, so I didn’t interfere. I watched as he let loose with some colorful words while he was bending over the machine to see why it wasn’t working.
Hodge was wearing a tie, as was the norm in those days. As he was checking out the telecopier, it started to spin. And his tie got caught, causing a meltdown of epic proportions. I would guess I had a hard time not laughing at this situation, since it was hilarious and all. But my professional courtesy might have caused me to feign dismay. I don’t really remember.
Hodge finally got himself untangled from the machine and was, if memory serves, finally able to get his story back to the newspaper. But it was a struggle. And it wasn’t just a struggle for him. We all struggled in those days. It was not easy to be mobile and there were many times when technology failed us and we ended up dictating our stories to a poor sap on the other end of the phone.
I can recall dictating stories dozens of times in those early years. But I can’t remember the last time I had to dictate a story, which speaks well for the advancement in technology and newspapers.
The old days might have been romantic. But they were frustrating, too.