Time to Tie the Tie? (tf)

Black and white. I grew up the son of a newspaperman. Black and white photos will forever remind me of the daily paper. In recent times color photos have been added, but they never look quite right in a newspaper. They look like somebody or something trapped under really bad lighting.

Ours used to be a 2 paper town. A lot of heart went out of the place when one paper gobbled up the other. The competition was gone. Nobody had to work to get the story anymore, because the story would wait. Rival reporters were friends. They broke bread and drank together. Especially the latter. But they’d run from the bar and bash each other over the head to get the story first. And when it was over, they’d go back to being friends again. Back to Pete Bordi’s for dime drafts of Gibbons, sharing stories. Some of them even true.

Black and white. As a kid I remember visiting my father in the newsroom. The floor was concrete. The typewriters and the phones and everybody’s ties were black. The shirts were white. Wrinkled with sleeves folded to the elbow. The ceiling was white. So was the air. You couldn’t see more than 10 feet in any direction because of the cigarette and cigar smoke. Nobody in the newsroom smoked a pipe. Pipes were for fussy editors with their own office. In the summer the place was like a sauna.

The noise was deafening. If you wanted somebody you just stood up and screamed his name. There were no cubicles. No privacy. The phones never stopped ringing. The sound of fingers pounding on keys was positively orchestral. How a guy could type out a pitch-perfect story on a deadline with 100 maniacs screaming all around him I have no idea. Times were different in those days. They were black and white. You had a job to do and you did it. I asked my Dad about the pressure of deadlines. “Loved it”, he said. “Best part of the job”.

It was organized chaos, though I never saw the organized part. I just know it’s true because every day a new paper was the result. If you got it early enough it was still warm from the printers. It still smelled like ink. The printing press was in the basement back then. The rumbling of the press would shake coffee out of cups…and the little eye-openers that the guys would sneak into the coffee. Bottom right-hand drawers were reserved for bottles. They had more stock than a State Store in that newsroom. These were men. In black and white. They worked and played hard. At one Christmas party a few celebrated by pushing a piano at the Hotel Casey down the steps. They wanted to hear how it would sound.

Fast forward now. You can’t even walk past the Hotel Casey or a brick might fall on you. And a visit to the newsroom now? It’s surreal.

No more black and white. Carpeting. Cubicles. No smoking of course. Air conditioned. No bottles in bottom drawers because these new fangled desks don’t have drawers anymore. If you want to talk to someone you send him an email, even if he sits 20 feet away. The pounding of the typewriter is replaced by the faint touch of soft computer keyboards. The printing press isn’t in the basement anymore. It’s 15 miles away. Eerie. Nobody even raises their voice. It’s like visiting a library. Or a tomb. I visited and felt like a complete stranger. Worse yet….an intruder.

In a lot of ways this is what we call progress. Things are much more efficient. And cheaper. It takes less people to put out a daily newspaper now. Less talent too, judging by the end result. But then there’s not much incentive when nobody is pushing you to be better. To make more money? Sure. To be better? No.

It’s all color now. Black and white is drab. It’s for geezers who lament that Pete Bordi’s is long gone. No more Gibbons for lunch. Salads now. We’re a one newspaper town.

Damn the color. I want my black and white.

–Tom Flannery

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~ by admin on January 18, 2011.

One Response to “Time to Tie the Tie? (tf)”

  1. Hi TOM – LOVED YOUR NEWSPAPER COMMENTS. They truly are a dying breed in my part of the world. I don”t think the ‘younger’ generaltion has any idea of how important newspapers were in the good old days. Even in the far north getting the week old paper from home (via train) was a big event. Even now my local paper is the highlight of my day (doesn’t take much to satisfy the elderly). Best wishes.

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