Newspapers have changed radically in past 26 years

July 24, 2005|By John League

I reached two professional milestones in late May.

One, I marked my 10th year as publisher of The Herald-Mail newspapers, and my 26th year as an employee of this company.

It's been quite a journey. The newspaper business, in fact all of the communications industry, has undergone radical if not revolutionary change during that time. The Herald-Mail is no exception.

Some 26 years ago, we were housed in what we Herald-Mail old-timers refer to as the "old building," a charming but cramped edifice at 25 Summit Ave., a half-block block north of our present location. The parking lot was tiny. Using the entrance from the parking lot, the path to the newsroom was an often poorly lit maze that would test the directional ability of an Eagle Scout.


I wrote my first newspaper story for The Morning Herald on a manual typewriter in what was, charitably, a newsroom very long on character and very short on cleanliness and modern (even for that era) amenities.

The desk I had borrowed on my first day was filled with cigarette butts that someone had put out, flame first, on the desktop. More people smoked cigarettes than didn't. The window air conditioner may have worked, but it had been sacrificed on that day for open windows, sans screens.

Completed stories were given to editors, who would edit by literally cutting, gluing and Scotch-taping your story into a readable form. The story was then passed through a long line of proof-readers, copy editors and compositors.

I had as much understanding of the production process that ended with my story published in the paper as, today, I understand the inner workings of a jet engine.

After work, we would often retire to the since-demolished Antietam Tavern, to talk about the day's stories and the day's newsmakers over an ice cold can of 35-cent Schaefer beer.

How times have changed.

Today, we work in a beautiful building. I'm a horrible typist, and the computer that I'm writing this column on will almost correct spelling errors and typos before I've had a chance to make them. (Unfortunately, I can still sneak a few by.)

You won't find any cigarette butts in our newsroom. Smokers must use a designated room or go outside. The smokers don't like that, but the rest of our employees do. The building is centrally air conditioned.

Stories are written and edited on computer screens. Cutting and pasting, still an editor's best friend, are now computer commands. When the story leaves the copy desk, the next stop is the printed page. Gone are the proof-readers. Compositors have been replaced by paginators, who assemble completed pages electronically, and pass them on to the press room.

After work, I'm told a few reporters still make their way to local watering holes. But they're just as likely to head to the health club or gym. For sure, the beer will cost more than 35 cents.

I'm not one to romanticize the old days. They were great times, and I wouldn't trade my experiences for anything. But I wouldn't go back, either.

And some things haven't changed.

The Herald-Mail remains the No. 1 source for local information. We're probably publishing more local information today than we ever have. From staff-written news stories to obituaries to honor rolls to Little League news, no one has a local information digest on Washington County like The Herald-Mail. In fact, no one even comes close.

And now we have the Internet. It has allowed The Herald-Mail and all newspapers to compete with our friends in TV and radio, and we now beat our competitors to the punch without having to wait for the next production cycle to do so.

Nearly three decades into my newspaper career, yes, indeed, there has been great change. But it's been a great ride.

And the good Lord willing, it's far from over.

John League is editor and publisher of The Herald-Mail Co.

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