Once upon a time, in a land that I actually still live around, I had THE PERFECT JOB.
I was a bright, young, eager high school student. I was determined to be a writer. Not just a writer...a NEWSPAPER writer. A Journalist (with a capital J). A newspaper woman complete with tan overcoat, press passes dangling from a ratty lanyard, and a snappy knack for driving the very truth to the surface. Very "Hildy Johnson".
At the tender age of 14 1/2, I walked into the newspaper office below and begged the Publisher to give me a job. Any job. I wanted to be...no, I NEEDED to be around the smell of newsprint, hot rolling wax, photo developer, and stacks of newspapers.
Soon I was given the chance to write a weekly column, appropriately titled Teen Beat (go ahead, laugh!!). Each week I strove to ferret out some fascinating high school related subject for this column. Each week, I would have to walk down this very hall to have the Publisher review my work:
Considering this newspaper had a history of uncovering such local dramas as the following image displays, I had a right to float! I had impressed him. Even if I had just finally reached his high standard, it would have been enough.
There was so much more I learned during my 5 year tenure. I would watch the layout staff "wax the news sheets" so the pages of the newspaper could be designed and moved around with ease if a change of design or "breaking story" came in late. I learned the graphic elements of designing a newspaper page, from laying out the order of stories to placement of advertisements and classifieds. This was all done manually, mind you. No computer programs existed to assist this effort. In fact, when I left, only word processors were in play.
I used to watch the darkroom attendant produce the contact sheets and half tone images for use each week. I learned the trade of news photography. How to frame a photo, how to light it, and how to crop it for best effect. I still remember the "F2 Dark to F22 Light" lesson about lighting. Here's an example of what those sheets looked like:
I met one of my best friends at this job. We were the same age, in the same high school, and he RAN the circulation department of the newspaper while I ran the morgue files and wrote my column. We had a ton of fun snapping rubberbands at each other, leaving fake messages for each other on our desks, and staying up until 2am on some Tuesday nights, inserting the ad sheets into the paper for delivery the next morning.
Here's my newspaper buddy, 28 years later, revisiting one of his old machines/enemies - the crafty coupon inserter:
Now, you may be wondering what is making me suddenly wax so poetic about this time of my life. Well, the grand old Publisher just passed away last month, after a long and fruitful life. I went to his memorial, listening to the stories told by politicians, newspaper staff, family and many, many friends. It was not a sad ceremony, more a celebration of this man who had such a powerful impact on so many. A GOOD impact. It was the best job I have ever had, and it's sad that it ended so abruptly. The newspaper was sold around 1989 and new management had no time for fresh young kids like me hanging around. I moved on to other jobs, in other directions, and have yet to ever match the satisfaction I had working at the local paper.
The reception was held at the newspaper office. Yes, in this age of internet news and instant gratification, this newspaper is still in business! After saying hello to old friends and catching up with the two members of the news staff still in circulation at the paper today (pun intended), I headed to the back of the building to see what might be left from those old days.
IT WAS ALL THERE! I opened the back door and the 1980's practically leapt into my lap. I think that might be my old desk under all those boxes - it looked like it:
The old machinery, the morgue files, the layout wax, the contact sheets, all of this is now stored in the back of the newspaper:
The contact sheet files were all there too:
In the end, I did not find it a sad task to remember the man who gave this fresh kid a chance back in 1984. His life and influence were celebrated through the many happy stories we all had in abundance.
I found it harder to realize that everything I learned in those few years is no longer needed. There are no waxed newspaper pages waiting to be taken to a printers. There are no more typewriter ribbons to be replaced. Stacks of contact sheets and the red pencils used to crop those images lay in old metal filing cabinets. There is no darkroom with strips of negatives hanging to dry. The microfiche machine lies dusty and unused, a symbol of a time when information was tangible, something you could touch and share and file.
I'll also leave you with the best lessons I learned from those days:
Always be learning
Always be listening
Always be willing
...and proof read. Always proof read.