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Marlo saw history of nation and newspaper play out

October 17, 2009|By MEG PARTINGTON

Some of the events Marlo Barnhart watched unfold in the newsroom over 41 years at The Herald-Mail Co. now fill the pages of history books.

On her second day as a college intern, in June 1968, U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated, not quite five years after his brother, President John F. Kennedy, was killed by an assassin's bullet.

"I got to see a newsroom in full chaos mode," Barnhart said.

On another presidential note, she clearly recalls the day Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974. Two versions of The Daily Mail's front page were prepared, one exclaiming that Nixon resigned and the other saying he was hanging on to his post, depending on what happened at the absolute last minute before the page had to go to press. The "Nixon resigns" option obviously was the winner.

Before her retirement on Oct. 8 from full-time employment with the company, she reflected on the changes she has seen in the industry since she first set foot in the newsroom.

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As an intern, Barnhart came to The Daily Mail armed with the basics she had been taught in her journalism courses at Shepherd College, now Shepherd University, in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

"I knew how to write a story using the five W's (who, what, where, when and why)," she said, and how to compose a lead, or first sentence or two of a story. But she still had a lot to learn about gathering news and interviewing.

Barnhart was handed a camera -- complete with film -- her first day on the job and didn't really know what to do with it.

Just a couple of years ago, Barnhart was given a compact video camera to take along on her interviews. She really didn't know what to do with that, either.

Today's interns -- some still in high school -- typically are somewhat versed in the basics of news gathering and writing, but come fully armed with technical knowledge about digital photography, videography and all things Internet.

My, how times have changed.

Barnhart spent her first three years as a full-timer, starting in August 1969, working on the "women's page," rewriting information submitted for publication and attending high-society events. She had to dress the part for those fashionable functions and said women on staff weren't allowed to wear slacks during work hours until the mid-1970s.

In 1971, Barnhart was assigned to work on the paper's weekly tab called School Scene. High school students compiled the news from their schools, typed it and sent it in so Barnhart could retype it on her manual Olivetti typewriter. Her words then were retyped onto linotype and eventually made their way onto the press.

After taking maternity leave in 1973 following the birth of her daughter, Amanda, and again in 1978 after the birth of her son, Lucas, she left School Scene for the crime scene, taking over the police and court beats, which she covered for 26 years.

"There was more personal contact with the police then," Barnhart said.

She recalls stopping at the Maryland State Police barrack with her children in tow. They used to play on the helipad there while she gathered the news and forged trusting relationships that gave her a distinct reporting advantage.

"I always got everything first," she said, which gave her a huge sense of pride.

In 1979, The Herald made a giant leap -- physically and technologically.

That year, the company moved into its current building at 100 Summit Ave. from its former site at 25-31 Summit Ave. Barnhart recalled how the street had to be closed for a few days so the new press could be assembled.

When the current building still was under construction, the reporters had to file their stories for publication in The Daily Mail, then go through three hours of computer training every day for a week. It was clear then that the days of "cut and paste" were over. No more would reporters type their stories on paper, then cut paragraphs out and glue them somewhere else on the page to make the words flow better.

Then came the era of Web sites.

The Herald-Mail hopped on the online wagon in 1996 when it launched www.herald-mail.com. The site now includes breaking local news stories, videos, blogs and photographs, as well as online polls, forums and many options for readers to share their comments. Let's not forget the regional, national, world, sports and entertainment that fill our ever-evolving site.

The abundance of information available online -- from credible and not credible sources -- has readers trying to figure out what's factual and what's hype.

"I don't think they really know what's news anymore," Barnhart said.

The Herald still strives to provide the most accurate, up-to-date information to its paper and online readers. We have more avenues through which to disseminate that information -- including e-alerts and e-mailing the next day's headlines to those who request such a service -- than we did when Barnhart started her career.

Yes, times have changed, but The Herald's dedication to providing the most accurate news in the most timely fashion has not.

Meg H. Partington is assistant city editor of The Herald-Mail. She can be reached Sunday through Tuesday at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or by e-mail at megp@herald-mail.com.

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