Breaking news: Newspapers are much different than when I started in this industry back in 1972.
I broke in at the Daily Reporter in Derby and one of my main jobs was to go out every day for a Man On
the Street interview. I would ask some silly question of two people, take their photographs and jot down their answers. Then it would be in the next day’s paper.
I thought it was kind of a waste of time, but if nothing else it taught me how to approach people and start a conversation. Considering I was 17 at the time, approaching people and starting conversations was not a priority, unless that person happened to be a 17-year-old girl. Or 18 if I was feeling particularly spry.
We were decades away from the Internet in those days, when rotary phones were still in style. I used a manual typewriter to write stories. I think I even snatched the paper out of the typewriter at times and yelled, “copy,” but perhaps that’s just something I wish I had done.
I would sometimes write a sports feature story and cover a school board meeting in the same day, for the same paper. I was the Daily Reporter’s sports editor for about a year, but that didn’t mean my duties were limited to sports.
I even covered my own games occasionally. I remember pitching a shutout against Campus during my senior season in 1973 and writing about the game. I wish I had kept the article because I’ve long been curious about whether I quoted myself.
I should have. I pitched the shutout, after all. But being the humble and modest human being I am, I’m sure I wrote about some teammate who was 1-for-3 with an RBI.
Working for a hometown newspaper was enjoyable and there was so much variety. I called government officials daily and in hindsight I wonder how they felt about an 18-year-old kid digging into their business. I can’t remember any tension with those folks, but surely there must have been.
Sports is what interested me. Not city politics or school board agendas. But this was a time of paying my dues and the education I received about reporting at the Daily Reporter, working for an editor by the name of Gary Owen, was invaluable.
That experience, really, was my college education, even though much of it happened while I was still in high school. I was fortunate to have some outstanding journalism professors at Wichita State, but the hands-on experience I got during my two years in Derby was what molded me the most.
We had a pretty good thing going on there. I’m sure I didn’t make much money, maybe $100 a week at most. And considering I worked every night after school when I was in high school and just as much after I started at Wichita State, it had to break down to about $3 an hour, if that.
But I was doing something I enjoyed. And doing something that I wanted to make a career of. The newspaper bug bit me in Derby and I’ve been carrying it around for more than four decades.
As I said at the start of this blog, the industry has changed. And in recent years, it has downsized because of intense competition from not only other newspapers, but all other media outlets. The immediacy of news gathering has been amazing to watch.
I remember when a newspaper’s calling card was non immediacy, but depth. We might not always get the story first, or be able to tell our readers the story before they heard it somewhere else, but we would provide the best accounting of a story.
Now, because of the Internet, newspapers are often the first to break a story. And, in my opinion, we’re the folks who still give a story the best spin in terms of depth, analysis and information.
My learning experience was enhanced when I joined The Eagle in 1974, first as a part-time phone crew hire in sports and then, in the summer of 1975, a full-time high school sports reporter. Those of us who were around in those times romanticize them. There was no Facebook or Twitter, obviously. We were putting out two newspapers a day – The Eagle in the morning and The Beacon in the afternoon. There was a great sense of teamwork and camaraderie.
Our newsroom buzzed with workers doing their jobs in those days. There were so many of us and I was able to learn the routine and rhythm of a newspaper through the actions of reporters, photographers and editors.
The routine changed. So did the rhythm. Newspapers are different in 2013.
The one thing that hasn’t changed is the writing. And that’s what I have always loved the most.