Thank God, the tools of editor’s trade have changed over the years
The question came out of left field Saturday night as Noah and I watched Penn State’s remarkable comeback in the Big 10 football championship game.“So Dad, did you use typewriters when you started in newspapers?”What?“No seriously, that was a lot of years ago,” Noah said. “A lot has changed, hasn’t it?”As I worked on putting together the paper Sunday, I kept thinking about Noah’s “change question” and realized that, yes, that was “a lot of years ago” and yes, oh my gosh, much has changed.I wrote my first newspaper story back when I was in high school.In Mapleton, Minn., our local newspaper had the coaches write the stores about the previous week’s games and matches, so when I broke my hand during the basketball season, my coach asked me to help him write the stories for a while.And when I say “help,” what Ron Newell really meant was “just write the whole thing.”So in the winter of 1983, I sat over a typewriter and banged out — one handed, by the way — my first newspaper stories.I guess I did start on typewriters way back when.Yet, that was going to be the extent of my writing career. When I enrolled at Mankato (Minn.) State University, the plan was to major in accounting.A year or two later, I realized that it’s hard to be creative in accounting; in fact, those who get creative with accounting can find themselves enjoying “three hots and a cot” in prison.But I’m digressing yet again.Back to Noah’s question.When I first started working at the MSU Reporter and the Mankato Free Press, we did have computers, but they didn’t resemble anything we use today.Pages were still “pasted up,” which meant that six-column headlines were rarely “even” as they stretched across the page.I can still remember working on an Apple IIE and thinking it was seriously the coolest thing ever invented.If high school students today realized what we thought was “cool” back in the 1980s, they would probably die laughing.Back then, if we didn’t attend a game, coaches would call in the results. Wrestling tournaments were the worse because you’d literally be taking dictation for an hour.I was reminded of that on Sunday afternoon, when I went to trackwrestling.com to get results from New Hampton’s appearance at the Independence Invitational.As much as I whined about “re-coding” the agate for that, I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be on the phone with Nick Hemann for hours as he droned on with “Round 1, Fye pinned Lucas Weigle, W-E-I-G-L-E, Osage ...”Little wonder that coaches broke out in wild celebrations in the 1990s when fax machines became the rage and all they had to do was hit send, call in and give us a few comments.Still, even fax machines — the first one the Globe had used this film paper that literally rolled out of the machine — can’t touch a candle to internet sites like quikstats.com and trackwrestling.com.Last fall, quikstats’ website crashed, and I felt like we in the newspaper industry were thrown back into the Dark Ages, for we use it not only for game results from sports like football, basketball, volleyball, baseball and softball but also for up-to-date season statistics.There have been other great leaps forward when it comes to newspaper technology — including software programs that have done away with pasting up pages — but by far the best invention ever is the digital auto-focus cameras.Invariably, back in the Stone Age of my journalism career, you’d run out of film at the most inopportune time.It would be fourth-and-2 with 30 seconds left in a tight football game, and I’d be desperately trying to wind the film shut and then frantically get the new roll into the camera.By the time I was done with that, both teams had completed their postgame handshakes and were heading back to the locker room.And it really didn’t matter, because 99.5 percent of my pictures didn’t turn out anyway because I truly was the worst “focuser” in the country.I can still remember going to a MSU playoff game in Portland, Ore., and Free Press photographer John Cross shaking his head as he talked to me.“Make sure you get one of the coach talking to someone,” he said, “because that might be your only shot.”Harsh? Yes. Reality? Pretty close to it.Auto-focus changed everything. I can actually take a picture of people moving and sometimes — emphasis on sometimes — it turns out.So, yes, Noah things have changed a lot since the day I first pounded the keys and turned out a Mapleton Scots’ basketball story.And you know what? I thank God every day for that because I probably would have washed out of journalism, turned back to accounting, got creative and been sent off to the big house.