The Columbus Dispatch was sold today. At times like this I am reminded of the words of the great Carl Hiaasen, in his novel “Basket Case.” Ahem:
When a newspaper is purchased by a chain such as Maggad-Feist, the first order of business is to assure worried employees that their jobs are safe, and that no drastic changes are planned. The second order of business is to attack the paper’s payroll with a rusty cleaver, and start shoving people out the door.
Maggad-Feist was plainly a fictionalized Knight Ridder, and “Basket Case” is old enough now that merely being shoved out the door has a certain chivalry to it, as it usually came with at least some form of severance. Our commenting friend Adrianne was a victim of the Dispatch’s new owner; here’s her experience:
These jokers bought my old newspaper, promptly laid off me and two other news editors, plus the entire photo staff. Six months later, they laid off the entire copy desk and moved all those jobs to Austin, Texas, where harried young graduates try to write headlines and design pages for the 60-plus newspapers in the empire. Reporters at their newspapers have not had raises in seven years, and do not get any overtime, no matter what the cause. They are owned by a hedge fund determined to wring every last drop of profit from their newspapers before selling out – I give them two years, tops. I didn’t think a newspaper chain could be worse than Gannett. I was wrong.
I left the Dispatch long, long ago. I don’t regret it. I had to leave to find my voice, which was waiting for me somewhere in Indiana, along with my husband and a lot of good people. The Maggad-Feist chain paid me adequately but never well, and when it all came to an end I could at least say the place had given me a lot to write about. But I was too young and ignorant to appreciate the good things about the Dispatch, mainly how goddamn flush they were, with cash — the sports team traveled to Ohio State away games on a company plane, and we’re talking reporters, editors, columnists, photographers and probably more — but mostly people.
The people! Oh my god, in these days of outsourced copy editing, it’s almost hard to imagine. There were so many people on staff. There were six writers just in the women’s department, where I started. Four of us were general assignment and two were specialists (brides, fashion), and we filled maybe a page, page-and-a-half a day, plus a Sunday section. There was a full-time editor for this department, and we were back there with sports and, oh, let’s just take a walk through that fifth-floor newsroom, shall we? There were four or five on the Sunday magazine, which used a lot of freelancers, too. A couple-three who only had to put out one Sunday page or fill a section with wire copy. Sports was packed with bodies, beat writers for all the big OSU sports and for Cincinnati baseball. (Kirk, help me out here: Did we have FTEs for Cleveland teams?) Let’s walk through photo (at least six or eight full-time shooters, plus a couple guys coasting toward retirement who handled scheduling and record-keeping and some studio work, and a secretary) and out into the main newsroom. There was the public-affairs editor, who filled a hubcap-size ashtray every single day. He was flanked by another chain smoker who edited the Accent front page — the features front, and only the features front — five days a week, and filled her own gigantic ashtray.
City desk? At least two editors on it at all times, frequently three. Reporters out the wazoo. Cops were covered 24 hours a day, lest mayhem break out overnight. There was a state desk, with just an editor in the newsroom, but plenty of writers who lived out in the circulation area and worked from home. And there was an art department, featuring actual artists. (One illustrated a lighthearted story about culture shock among the Japanese managers of the newly opened Honda plant. All the Japanese people in his drawings had buck teeth and thick glasses. Everything he knew about Asians he’d learned from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” apparently.)
And this is only the day crew. There was a slimmer but still robust night staff, including an overnight copy editor. He came in about the time I was leaving at 10 p.m., his skin the color of a fish that lives in the Marianas Trench. The guy sitting next to me watched him walk in, turned to me and said, “Creeeeeeak, and the coffin swings open for another night.” Plus there were people who had jobs I can’t fathom existing today. We had a copy boy, long after computers had replaced glue pots. He delivered papers to each desk as they came off the press and did miscellaneous other duties; maybe he washed the publisher’s car. There was a woman who kept the coffee urn filled and helped out in the basement test kitchen; yes, there was a test kitchen, a full-time food editor and full-time food writer. (Sample lead: “When I find myself out of ideas in the kitchen, I make muffins.”)
You might be getting the impression the paper was crappy. At that time, it most assuredly was. It later got better, a lot better. More on that in a bit, but a lot of this I now see was the result of a management that simply wouldn’t be brutal with people. They couldn’t be proactive about helping them improve, either, but I prefer it to cruelty. Alcoholics were tolerated, or helped through a full 28-day rehab, if they wanted it. For a time there was a copy editor who was blind. Seriously. A blind copy editor was a joke on some Mary Tyler Moore TV show, but we actually had one, a guy who leaned his white cane up against his desk. They could have booted him onto disability, but they didn’t. He edited the weather page, his nose pressed close to his monitor.
Half a dozen old men crafted editorials about Arbor Day and The Coming of Football Season and whatever conservative cause the publisher was on about. There were two — TWO — editorial cartoonists. I think that job has dwindled to about a dozen or so in the whole goddamn country.
I can see now this was a staff ripe for a management consultant to come in with a rusty cleaver, that we operated at near-Soviet levels of overstaffing, but honestly? Who cares. All those people collected their paychecks, cashed them and used the money to pay taxes, buy cars, raise families and otherwise keep the economy chugging along. If you think a belching factory smokestack is ugly, try one with nothing coming out at all.
The paper did get better, after I left. The deadwood aged out. A couple were broomed by the first halfway-decent, non-company man editor-in-chief the publisher hired; he’d already fired one in his previous job in Cincinnati. (A tart-tongued assistant city editor — we had a lot of those — said the victim needed to find his true employment destiny in a toll booth somewhere.) More smart editors did strategic hiring of good people, and little by little it was no longer the embarrassing paper in the state, but a pretty damn good one. Then the whole industry fell to pieces, and the last time I was there, they’d downsized the print paper to something about the size of a pamphlet. So sad.
Now it’s even worse, if you can imagine that. (I can. The one lesson the newspaper business pounded into my skull was to never say, “It can’t get any worse,” because it always, always can. And does.) I just heard a story today about a fine piece of newspaper watchdog journalism, and an editor’s dismissal of it, the next day: “No one read that thing on the web.” By this measure, Buzz Bissinger should get the Pulitzer for writing the Caitlyn Jenner story. I’m sure the newsroom was still a fun place to work during this renaissance, but it was also fun when I was sitting there on Saturday night, watching the clock and hoping I’d get out in time to enjoy a little bit of it, hoping the impossible drunk in charge wouldn’t get a wild hair up his butt and make me cold-call an address he’d just heard on the police scanner and ask why they were fighting so loudly that the police had been called.
I’ve worked at one other place with weirdos and characters like that: WGL, the AM station where Mark the Shark and I had our little radio show. I wrote about that place once already, but there are still more stories to tell. One of these days.
(A final note about typos here: A few of you have been correcting me, and I thank you. Autocorrect, in all my apps, is getting out of hand. I do this writing at night, mostly, and I’m tired and my eyes are tired and all the rest of it, but there’s a great deal of fucking autocorrect going on, too. Working on it.)
Finally, here’s one relic of the Dispatch I still have, and use often. Hashtags: #armwattle, #chinfat, #unflatteringphoto. This was something the photographers wore in the chemical-bath, pre-digital days, and I wear when I’m cooking anything splattery:
Happy Thursday, all.
adrianne said on June 4, 2015 at 6:12 am
Nance, what a great tribute to a once-great newspaper. I’m afraid the hacks at Gatehouse/New Media/Whatever they’re calling themselves these days will finish the job. Soulless clowns.
Wim said on June 4, 2015 at 6:46 am
When I read such recollections, I hope you’ll write an autobiographical novel.
Kirk said on June 4, 2015 at 7:52 am
We did cover Browns, Cavaliers and Indians home games, as well as Reds and Bengals.
This sale is very sad. Despite dwindling resources and other challenges, the bosses have kept The Dispatch a relevant, solid paper, including an excellent series this week on all the crappy earthen dams in the state and what a joke the state’s maintenance of them is, leaving thousands downstream from disasters waiting to happen.
There was a meeting with the staff yesterday, involving the publisher and the president of the company. In the following exchange, Fiorile is the president (who’d fit right in at Gannett) and Randy Ludlow is an old-school, hard-driving reporter:
After Fiorile spelled out that the family would retain the broadcast properties, someone said, “Well, that will make us competitors.” Then Randy piped up: “And we’re going to kick your ass.”
beb said on June 4, 2015 at 8:25 am
The Hiassen quote applies to the new management at the water department. The consultants can in and declared they were not planning massive layoffs. And in the next breath talked about how the water department could be run with one-tenth its current work-force.
Dave said on June 4, 2015 at 8:29 am
I don’t want to be the one to say it’s WGL but I will.
I grew up reading the Dispatch, from the time I started reading newspapers until, and even after I left Central Ohio. I always found the Citizen-Journal more racy, somehow, but what did I know and besides, my parents got the Dispatch. When you’re ten years old and it’s 1960, what do you know? I sure remember the Sunday magazine and all the sports (Yea, Woody, all the time) and the big Society section. It’s all gone, part of another era, we all know that, but what should newspapers have done to fight off the digital age? Had they all created paywalls from the start, would that have slowed their decline?
nancy said on June 4, 2015 at 8:36 am
Ack! Right you are. I was conflating it with WJR, here in the D. Fixed.
Jim Sweeney said on June 4, 2015 at 8:42 am
I competed against the Dispatch in the late ’80s and early ’90s when I was in a Statehouse bureau for a chain of mid-sized papers. It was on the upswing then, though still used as a blunt weapon by the Wolfes against whatever politician fell out of favor. The Wolfes were never ideal owners, but I’m afraid they’re going to seem that way in retrospect.
Peter said on June 4, 2015 at 9:34 am
What a bittersweet recollection. The changes in my neck of the woods (architecture) aren’t as gut wrenching as journalism, but they’ve changed as well. When I started, there were people on staff whose sole job was to make deliveries to various clients and contractors; there was the guy who ran the supply room and took care of the print orders, and we had a staff of four who ran the press room for drawings and specifications. And speaking of specifications – the company had a staff who would just crank out those books, one after the other – they would cut and paste and xerox page after page. All gone. Gone, gone gone.
brian stouder said on June 4, 2015 at 10:28 am
Speaking of news from back in the day, here’s one that made me say “wow” –
The lead –
A Washington judge on Thursday granted a new trial to the man convicted of killing federal intern Chandra Levy in 2001, after prosecutors dropped their opposition to a defense request to re-try the case.
The (beautiful) photo of Ms Levy shows her made me feel old;
and I tripped over this sentence, which bugged me (and still bugs me)
The case triggered a media sensation when police investigators at first suspected and then cleared Gary A. Condit, a married California congressman who was 30 years her senior, and with whom Levy was conducting an affair.
“…with whom Levy was conducting an affair” sounds…passive-aggressive
Alan Stamm said on June 4, 2015 at 10:55 am
You tap a keg of heady memories that never go flat. They’re from when the Evening News Association owned The Detroit News, a golden age when its initials could have stood for the Excessive News Association.
During my rookie years, which began in ’76 as a “women’s section” copy editor, our department had 20 or maybe two dozen people — including a half dozen other copy editors. Even the new kid soon learned that vodka was in the test kitchen freezer. The fashion editor (Marji Kunxz, later Yvonne Petrie) filed from week-long Paris prêt-à-porter runway shows each spring and fall. The decor writer (Linda LaMarre) went to High Point, N.C., furniture shows annually.
On the national desk later, I handled copy from six Washington Bureau writers. During presidential campaigns, they followed a handful of early nomination-seekers to Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere.
In various city desk jobs, I worked with a dozen-plus Lansing writers, edited the weekly science section and later a short-lived Sunday Outlook section with “think pieces.” I mercifully never had anything to do with the Contact 10 reader help line that generated daily columns about how The News fought stores for refunds.
Road trips by reporters included cross-country coverage of a 1987 visit by Pope John Paul II that ended in Hamtramck, space shuttle launches in Florida, the Mount St. Helens volcano eruption of 1980 in Washington State and other non-Detroit events. City desk writers even became foreign correspondents more than occasionally because they could:
* Jack Lessenberry reported from Russia and South America.
* George Bullard went to Vatican City twice in 1978 for new popes.
* Al Stark went to Africa.
I drank from the trough as the winner of an internal award for editing/co-writing a series on asbestos. My wife and I were flown to Austin so I could accept a plaque and check during a three-day junket for top execs and fellow winners from other ENA media properties.
Those were the days, my friends. And yes, we and the family owners thought they’d never end.
Bitter Scribe said on June 4, 2015 at 11:06 am
Several years ago, the trade magazine where I had worked for years was bought by one of the most notoriously stingy publishing companies in America. They proceeded to live up to their reputation–none of this nonsense about reassuring people their jobs were safe–by imposing an immediate 25% pay cut. They told us that this was because we had been overpaid. In reality, they had overpaid for the company, buying just at the wrong time (right before the start of the recession), and they had to make it up out of our hides.
Oh, these people were sweethearts. Their PR person would stand by the front door to take attendance, docking you half a day’s pay if you showed up 15 minutes late. When my mother died and I took three days’ compassionate leave, they made me fax them her obituary to show I deserved it. (I’m only surprised they didn’t make me dig up her body.)
The company was run by three brothers, whose grandfather had founded it. (Natch. The sons of bitches would have been changing the oil in my car otherwise.) After imposing the pay cut, one of the brothers convened an all-company meeting, which he started with a long story about how his grandfather had been a bomber pilot in the Pacific in World War II, and in one mission, his plane’s fuel tank was hit and started leaking. They ended up barely making it back to base by throwing everything out of the plane that wasn’t nailed down.
That was, of course, a metaphor for what they were doing to the company. But I walked out of the meeting muttering, “Why couldn’t that fucking Jap have been a better shot?”
The story has a happy ending, though. The day after his non-compete clause ran out, our former publisher (it was his parent company that sold to the bastards) moved literally down the street and started a new company. He ended up taking most of the talent from the old place with him, including, after a couple of detours, me.
Bitter Scribe said on June 4, 2015 at 11:13 am
Correction to above: I meant HR person, not PR person, of course.
nancy said on June 4, 2015 at 11:17 am
I’ve heard via the gossip grapevine that the current owners of my more recent alma mater are that cheap. They also own the Pittsburgh Pirates, which is one reason you never hear about them in the post-season.
adrianne said on June 4, 2015 at 11:55 am
Bitter scribe, you’ve earned your bitterness. What a bunch of heartless jerks. Faxing your mother’s obituary? May they burn in the everlasting fires of journalism hell.
brian stouder said on June 4, 2015 at 12:21 pm
….and btw, while it really goes without saying, still – those hashtags are way off base!
I would label the image
Bitter Scribe said on June 4, 2015 at 12:22 pm
Adrianne @13: Yeah, I didn’t choose my nom de blog by accident.
Nancy @12: Chicago has a long, proud tradition of skinflint sports ownership, which may explain our relative lack of success. This goes back to White Sox owner Charles Comiskey ordering his manager to bench one of his pitchers to keep him from reaching a win threshold that would trigger a bonus. (It led to the players throwing the World Series, aka the Black Sox scandal.)
Even Bill Wirtz, erstwhile owner of the Blackhawks, was notoriously cheap, refusing throughout his life to allow Hawks home games to be televised because it would cut into ticket sales. (He saved all his money to bribe politicians to make it impossible for brewers and distillers to get out of their contracts with his liquor distribution business, ensuring that Chicago would always have some of the highest retail prices for alcohol in the country.) Luckily, he’s dead and his son Rocky loosened the purse strings, which is why the Hawks are now in the Stanley Cup finals.
DJones said on June 4, 2015 at 1:54 pm
Fortunately, most of the people who remember the way it was won’t be around to see this transition. The ones who do, I can only hope for the best.
Great stuff, Nance. And don’t forget, we had THREE different softball teams. But you, as Cosell, “nevah played the game.” Only participated in the postgame IHOP breakfasts.
ben smith said on June 4, 2015 at 1:55 pm
Still boggles my mind that the place I used to call home once had a 15-man sports staff (complete with its own copydesk). Unfortunately, although that staff is now down to four lonely souls, the majordomos still labor under the delusion they’re the Chicago Tribune and not, demographically, the Kokomo Tribune. Which is why the four souls get worked to death while the sports editor never leaves his office, nor is ever so much as seen at a sporting event. Weird city.
Suzanne said on June 4, 2015 at 1:56 pm
I’ve worked several places over the years that required employees to produce an obit to be granted bereavement leave. One place required a note from the doctor/dentist/eye doc if you took a couple of hours sick time for an appointment. Felt like being back in high school.
Heartless, yes. I thought so.
Dorothy said on June 4, 2015 at 2:10 pm
It’s the employees who break the rules that ruin it for the rest of us honest ones. I knew someone who lied a couple of times about a sibling that died and we knew she came from a big family. I overheard her confessing to a guy she trusted that she just wanted a long weekend. I guess that’s why institutions sometimes have to ask for proof of things such as a parent’s death. But prove that you had a doctor appointment? That sounds like invasion of privacy to me.
Joe K said on June 4, 2015 at 2:13 pm
Enjoy your style, sorry to see you leave the Journel, but I have been enjoying your blog, and one more thing,
I think you went to Wayne with my cousin Mike Noel.
brian stouder said on June 4, 2015 at 2:35 pm
Wayne High School is a great, great institution.
Just went to a PTSA/Generally Speaking meeting yesterday evening – the last one of the year. The PTSA president is a great fellow named David Torres, who has worked very hard this year, growing the membership there by a factor of 3 or 4 times, I believe.
And the principal, John Houser, is the sort of leader that I trust completely, and who has provided steady, rock-solid leadership from the first moment he was put in charge, a year ago.
And not for nothing, he’s an old football coach; a guy who always wants to be moving forward, and who detests falling back – on any and all metrics.
Deborah said on June 4, 2015 at 2:52 pm
Nancy, one of the best posts yet! I love it when you journo types talk about your trade, or I should say “profession”. You should write a memoir. Seriously.
And Peter, I had the same thoughts about how much architecture has changed since my first gig at a large, international design firm in St. Louis. The print shop – check, the guy making deliveries-check, the spec writers – check, secretaries galore, etc, etc, but the coolest thing was the model shop with 5 or 6 people who made elaborate architectural models day in and day out. As you said, gone, gone, gone.
brian stouder said on June 4, 2015 at 2:57 pm
Presumably 3-D printers are now used, to make architectural models
paddyo' said on June 4, 2015 at 3:19 pm
I guess I picked the right day to find my way back again after months of other distraction to the best blog I know. We former ink-stained wretches all have pre-Web-days stories of our beloved and bedeviled newspaper lives (mine from Reno to Denver, with a large, split side of McPaper), but I couldn’t tell mine with such clear-eyed grace. Nice one, Nance’ . . . and as always, I have come (back) for the column and am staying for the comments.
MichaelG said on June 4, 2015 at 4:32 pm
Peter, Deborah, one thing I bet you didn’t miss was the ammonia smell. I know I didn’t when we went to plotters and copying machines.
David C. said on June 4, 2015 at 6:38 pm
We’re all just copper pipe in the abandoned house of life.
Jeff Borden said on June 4, 2015 at 7:12 pm
The Dispatch looms large in my life. I was pretty dismissive of it when I worked there, but it was the place that hired me away from the $125 per week daily in NE Ohio and gave me great beats to work from night cops to embryonic suburban coverage to TV writer. Like Nancy, I left to follow a muse that demanded I wind up in one of the Top 5 markets. The Charlotte Observer was a better newspaper, by far, in a smaller market and it definitely helped me get noticed and eventually hired in Chicago, where I have lived happily for 26 years now.
That said, there was always a kind of meanness at the Observer despite its lofty reputation. Knight-
Ridder folded the JOA afternoon paper, Charlotte News, shortly after my arrival and incorporated most of the staff, but the fact it was a big, rich paper in a non-competitive market made management look inward rather than outward. We were in contingency –which meant cost-cuts of up to 8% per year–
Jeff Borden said on June 4, 2015 at 7:14 pm
to make the margins the bosses in Miami set. It was a place where office politics resembled the intrigues of the Renaissance Vatican. Good people were treated like absolute dirt while yes men and women climbed ever higher. I’m grateful for the role the Observer played in propelling me to Chicago, but I recall my time in Columbus with much more affection.
Charlotte said on June 4, 2015 at 7:55 pm
Off topic, but Joe Biden is breaking my heart.
(Look! An actual newspaper … I get two. The local Livingston Enterprise which is kind of terrible but has all the local stuff. And the Billings Gazette, which is pretty good — when I lived in real cities I got the NY Times on dead trees, but here we have no delivery. The Guardian UK is my fav online … )
Deborah said on June 4, 2015 at 8:05 pm
Brian, yes models can be made with 3D printers now, the technology is getting better and better and the costs for 3D printing are going down, so that’s all good. The thing about a good old fashioned model shop though was that they made models out of all kinds of materials not always the same thing, like the plastics 3D printers use. But it was labor intensive and not nearly as immediate as 3D printing. It took awhile before 3D printer technology caught on for architectural models and not many models were being made at all when they were shutting down their model shops, which was a shame because you really need to see the designs in dimension, and computer drawings don’t always let you see that effectively.
Kirk said on June 4, 2015 at 8:43 pm
Deborah, journalism is not a profession. No required training, no licensing.
Nance, the Pirates have made the playoffs the last two years.
DJones, the champion co-ed media league softball team always hogged down its postgame chow at Bob Evans (chicken and noodles with biscuits and honey, please).
My buddy who covered the triple-A baseball team got to go cover the baseball winter meetings once — in Honolulu.
nancy said on June 4, 2015 at 9:01 pm
Kirk said on June 4, 2015 at 8:57 pm
And, Nance, I, too, have one of those aprons.
Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on June 4, 2015 at 9:55 pm
Hat tip, David C. @ #26.
Joe K said on June 4, 2015 at 10:02 pm
Sitting on the deck tonight with wife and dog,
9:36 and watched the space station fly over,
Sw to Ne took less than 5 minutes to fly by, 3rd
Time I’ve seen it, once with the shuttle just detached and
Flying formation and once while I was airborne over Lake Erie.
Can remember sitting out when I was a kid with dad watching satellites
Jill said on June 4, 2015 at 10:32 pm
Re: architectural models: Chicago magazine features someone local on its last page. The current issue shows the head model maker at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill working on one of his creations. His job is unusual these days.
basset said on June 4, 2015 at 10:55 pm
Don’t tell me about cheap management till you have worked at a Bahakel television station. Terre Haute in the early 80s… station in two-thirds of an abandoned downtown Kroger store, junk stored in the rest, no IFB, no chyron, no prompters, one edit bay in the whole place and production had it till four-thirty… weather guy sold cars during the day and our one news car was whatever used beater they lent us off the lot, I remember a Chevy van and an AMC Pacer… transmitter cranked up way too high most of the time, FCC be damned, we were a UHF up against two Vs… adversity builds character, I guess. Or should have, anyway.
Deborah said on June 4, 2015 at 11:33 pm
Wow, that’s impressive that SOM still has a head model maker. But of course SOM is like the New York Times of Architecture. My husband worked there in the mid 70s, before I knew him.
We camped out on our land in Abiquiu last night, only this time we slept on our camp bed in sleeping bags out on the foundation slab of the building we’re working on. That’s the first time in my life that I’ve ever slept out in the open under the stars and moon, it was amazingly comfortable. The only clinker was a neighbor on the the next mesa over had out of control dogs that barked non-stop for 2 solid hours. There we were sitting on our lawn chairs drinking some wine and at about 9pm the damn dogs started in and would not stop. It’s all about the peace and quiet usually so that was irritating to say the least. The dog owners did absolutely nothing about it until they finally went out in their car and cajoled the dogs in and took them back to their house to get them to stop. Why they didn’t do that an hour and a half earlier was exasperating to us.
We saw the movie, The Clouds Of Cils Maria for the 3rd time the other night. Love that movie. Tomorrow afternoon we’re going to see the movie, Salt of the Earth, a Wim Wenders Documentary about the photographer Sebastião Salgado, http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_salt_of_the_earth. Watch the trailer. I can’t wait to see it.
Page Lewis said on June 5, 2015 at 7:55 am
Nancy, this is so spot-on. Like Jeff I was dismissive. And yet, where else could a guy go with no journalism experience and land an assignment on the city desk of a major newspaper? If only I’d had the maturity to appreciate the opportunity the Big D was willing to afford. To be sure, my three-year tenure was not completely wasted. While my reporting skills were spotty, I came to learn the discipline and self-confidence that makes for a strong writer. Those were truly special days. Now, if only I could find a gifted Delorean mechanic…
John Carpenter said on June 5, 2015 at 12:04 pm
Love, love, loved this. So many things bring back memories, and are amazing to think about now. I used to sit next to a guy who smoked constantly, with a cigarette dangling from his mouth as he smoked. I was a reporter for years – years! – without a cell phone. I worked in a place without voice mail, where a kind-but-tough old woman answered our phones when we didn’t. I was once at my desk, with my feet up shooting the breeze with someone on the phone. I looked up and Alice was standing, glaring at me and pointing. I hung up quickly, and she yelled across the newsroom: “I have your MOTHER on the phone.” Later she told me: Don’t ever put your mother on hold. My first daily job was an afternoon paper, with the presses right next to the newsroom. If you had a breaking story, you’d hear them start to roll on the early sections while you were still writing. After deadline, we’d walk through the pressroom, grab a fresh copy and take it to the coffee shop, where most people would also smoke. I’ll stop now. But if you haven’t read Roger Ebert’s love letter to old newspapering, it’s worth it. It’s in his book, but also a blog post. I’ll try to find it.