Sunday, June 17, 2007

Hot Off the Presses

The Rome News Tribune, the newspaper for which Dad worked, moved from its Tribune Street location to its Glenn Milner Boulevard site back in the late 1960s... but that 19th century Tribune Street building will always define a newspaper as far as I'm concerned.
Dad frequently took me to the Rome News when he had to work late--and as a sports editor, he had to work late a lot. The paper had a strong local sports focus, and Dad's "territory" extended beyond Rome and Floyd County; he was expected to cover Cedartown and Calhoun and Rockmart as well, and that added up to more than two dozen schools. Friday and Saturday nights were always late nights for everyone in sports... and there weren't that many people, so Dad spent a lot of time writing and talking on the phone, getting reports from stringers and pulling it all together. I remember seeing Dad sitting at his cluttered desk in the middle of the newsroom (there were no separate offices--everyone worked in one large room, with an occasional copse of file cabinets offering a bit of a barrier between one cluster of desks and another), a heavy black phone tucked between ear and shoulder as he typed away on one of those massive black Royal gothic-meets-deco typewriters.

Dad gave me a lot of freedom to wander the newspaper, so long as I didn't get in anyone's way. I spent some time watching the guys in typesetting, marvelling at their ability to work with lead type to produce the rows after rows of copy that filled the paper. (I marvelled even more at their ability to read that type backwards and in mirror image, looking for errors.) I would hide away in the newspaper morgue, reading through files of papers that dated back to the early 1900s, amazed at the ads and the prices and the photos of places that had changed so much over six decades. I would gaze longingly at the original comic strip art on the walls of the front offices, gifts from various syndicates to the papers that carried their strips; there were Peanuts strips and Dick Tracy strips, and Snuffy Smith and Li'l Abner and Pogo and best of all, a Flash Gordon strip that I could scrutinize for hours.

The press room--a hot, cramped, deafeningly loud place filled with motion and heavy with the smell of oil-based inks--was off limits... well, the floor of the press room was off limits, anyway. The room itself was set in a pit a floor below the newsroom, and once you passed through the doorway from the newsroom to the press room, you were standing on an elevated walkway that went around the perimeter of the press room. I was given access to the walkway, so long as I never descended the stairs to the press room itself--too much equipment, too many places for a boy to do the wrong thing and injure himself, foul up the presses, or both. I never violated that rule, because the presses were intimidating; paper sped by continually, it seemed, and the machines did their jobs oblivious to my presence... and I knew that if I ever got caught up in them, I'd be dragged through and turned into a part of tomorrow's newspaper just like something out of a Warner Bros. cartoon.

I also loved to watch the wire service machines, scanning the news as it came in. This was instant news; I was seeing it as soon as it moved across the wires, hours before anyone would see it. Even better, I was witnessing news that that wouldn't see, since there was always so much more coming in on the wire than the paper could possibly hold. And I was in the place where people decided what news made it into the paper and what news was forever lost in the wastebins adjacent to the AP and UPI machines; even then, I knew that there was power in that.

I always enjoyed watching Dad work, though; he seemed so confident, so certain in his actions, so masterful int he way he worked with his staff, so "at home" in this world. When he thought i was getting bored, he'd give me stacks of newsprint and heavy black copy pencils to draw with; from time to time, I'd amuse myself with them, but for the most part, I just enjoyed being there, watching news being created.

And my Dad was one of the men who made that happen.

And I knew, then, that I wanted someday to be one of the men who made that happen, too.


Lanny said...

A great snapshot of a lost time. Awesome!

Brett Brooks said...

That is a wonderful read. Thanks for sharing. :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for a lovely trip!