The Tyro

When I was still in high school, I was asked by the publisher of my town’s newspaper to take charge of the back page of the paper. The back page was a prominent spot, and it was to be given over to news about activities at the high school.

I didn’t think twice. They were paying coin of the realm and I could hire my own team – and pay them, too. I soon had a small team of writers and photographers and even a cartoonist. One of the easiest things to find in a high school is a cartoonist, by the way.

The paper was delivered on Thursdays, so my copy deadline was Tuesday at noon. I had to fill all those column inches on the back page -- no if, ands, or buts.

Tyro that I was, I had to learn the discipline of writing to order, writing to a word count, editing cleanly and quickly, and managing a team that could do the same.

The best part of that job was getting to be in that newspaper office: saying hi to the publisher in his office in the front window as I walked past to the office of my editor – his daughter. She was very kind to me, but she got what she wanted, no mistake. They both made a kid feel like part of the business.

This was a business that thrived on being part of the community. It was sometimes derided for being local; but, you know, it was always read. Reporting was factual and opinion was saved for the editorial page. You knew where you stood when you read that paper.

I miss the smells -- of the linotype machine and the presses, of the ink and the paper. I miss the stereotypes that they used over and over, month after month, for a farm machinery ad or a clothier’s. I miss the paper’s morgue, where I could go down and read 100 years and more of bound volumes of back issues. You want to understand history on the ground, find a newspaper’s morgue.

Most of all, I miss that great publisher, a man I respected enormously. He once said that I had ‘ink in my veins’. That was just about the greatest compliment I have ever received.

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