Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Have last 50 years changed anything about industry?

Usually I write whatever happens to be on my mind when I sit down to compose, a la Steve Allen or George Gershwin, but sometimes I am handed an assignment which I feel compelled to honor, being the duty-bound kind of a guy that I tend to be.

The latter is the case today.

I got a letter the other day from Karen Sawitke at the Lake County History Center. She pointed out that the official history of the county was written 50 years ago and published as “Here is Lake County.”

She noted that some things may have changed in the last 50 years, so it might be time for an update.

“We have selected,” she wrote, “a group of people whom we feel represent Lake County at its best (wherever did they get my name?) in education, industry, politics, journalism, religion, agriculture, recreation, health, philanthropy and tourism.”

She said she was interested in getting my thoughts on the growth and/or changes in my field that have affected Lake County over the years, and what I see as the future.

My response was brief, because there is not much that has changed in journalism over the last 50 years.

Reporters still go to council meetings and write stories about them, they cover murders and other criminal acts, they wet their fingers and hold them out the window to write weather stories, they listen to the police radio and find out where the action is, they go to ball games, they cover the latest movies and they review the food at local restaurants.

And when they write their stories, they give them to editors who read them, put headlines on them and find space in the paper to place them.

That’s about it. Things are pretty much the same as they were 50 years ago.

Oh, there have been a few changes. The linotype machines with their hot metal are gone. They were used to set type for the stories. Then they started punching pink tape, about an inch wide, with little holes. The tape ran through the linotype machines and set the type automatically, so machine operators weren’t needed any more.

Somebody decided to quit writing stories on typewriters with carbon copies. The typewriters were too noisy.

Eventually they started writing the stories on computers. I may have the only remaining typewriter in the newsroom. I use it occasionally to type an address on an envelope.

Without typewriters there are no more carbon copies. So reporters can no longer sit around after deadline and compare “dupes” (duplicates), as Jerry Snook and Max Price and I used to do. We averaged 11 stories a day. Nobody writes that many stories in a day any more.

You cannot imagine how quiet that transition made the newsroom. Twenty or so typewriters being used at a time created an incredible din. That was only part of it. There were a dozen or so wire machines all clacking at the same time at a relentless 88 words per minute.

The machines were from the Associated Press, the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, a sports wire, a business wire, a weather wire, and I don’t know how many other wires. They were all clacking at the same time – at 88 words per minute.

Now all that stuff comes in on the computer. Computers are quiet.

All the metal in the back shop that was used to make type was melted down and used over. That necessitated having a re-melt pot, which was hot and smelly and shoved into the corner of the room.

A lot of people in the newsroom smoked cigarettes and cigars 50 years ago. Ed Bell, the city editor, constantly chomped on a cigar. Bill Griffith, who preceded Ed and won the Pall Mall Big Story $500 award when he worked in Youngstown, smoked a pipe. He lit his tobacco with wooden matches and left a trail of burnt matches from the newsroom to the composing room. All those relics of the past are gone.

There were five daily papers you could subscribe to in Lake County. Now the Cleveland Press, the Cleveland News and the Painesville Telegraph are gone.

You can still get The News-Herald home delivered seven days a week, thank goodness, but The Plain Dealer is delivered only four days a week now. The other three days you have to go someplace to find one and pay a dollar for it.

I started out by saying there haven’t been many changes in journalism here in the last 50 years. I will have to re-think that.

I will have a chapter in the History Center’s new book, and I will be getting a free copy. So I can’t wait to see if there is anything new in the other lines of work.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I work in Quality Control and though computers and measuring and monitoring equipment can improve, the number of companies with 'lousy' QA programs, even with ISO 9001 certification still exist.. way too many. Encountered 5 just this past month. Sad, 35 years in the business, one company using a Mil Std 9858 that came out in 1963 !

April 28, 2014 at 4:12 PM 

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