“We are all just prisoners here of our own device.”—Don Henley.
No, putting out a newspaper in the two smallest, poorest counties in Mississippi isn’t so easy that a caveman could do it, and no, I don’t want to save you 15 percent on your car insurance.
But sitting here in what passes as my newsroom, I find myself for not the first time a bit wistful for what probably actually weren’t, but what often sure do seem like the good ole days in this crazy business.
I know, thinking about the past is just one more sign of getting old.
I miss the way newspaper newsrooms used to be and I miss what used to be produced within them. The longer I live, the more I believe there is something to be said for drinking and cussing and cuttin’ up in their proper place, one of which used to be newspaper newsrooms.
Today’s newsrooms seem largely sterile places to me, as if they have been bleached or Lysoled. Technology and political correctness have produced much nicer appearing places in which better groomed people—Lord, they all seem so young—do the same sort of things that grizzled old hacks like me have always done. But like a classic old black-and-white movie that’s been colorized, it’s just not the same. There’s something missing.
They are too damned quiet and they smell too good.
There’s something in physics known as kinetic energy—potential energy—and newsrooms used to be full of it. As Carl Sessions Stepp wrote once, “They were loud, cocky and randy. They radiated energy at a near sexual level.” Walk into a big city newsroom today and see if you feel any of that.
There used to be the constant clatter of typewriters and the background din of wire service teletypes and yelling at deadline and muttered obscenities. There used to be a perpetual, never quite dissipating cloud of cigarette smoke and overflowing ash trays that when thoughtlessly emptied too soon set garbage cans on fire. There was almost indescribable clutter and not often enough washed coffee cups, the contents of which by day’s end were as stale and aromatic as the rear end of a yak.
And they were great places to work in which great work was done.
“The Reader’s Digest” used to (might still, for all I know) solicit “most unforgettable character” stories from all over the country. Hell, they should have just sent folks out to newspaper newsrooms—would have been a lot more entertaining.
Outside of the reporter slots which have always been something of a revolving door, there wasn’t as much newsroom turnover in those days, and in tribute to the contempt breeding of familiarity, aided mightily by the esoteric natures of their personalities, newsroom folk tended to be, shall we say, creative in their interactions with other people in the building.
Go into a newsroom today and cause a ruckus and odds are someone will very politely ask you to leave. At a really big paper, someone might summon a security guard to escort you out. Once upon a time, the crazy old coot who represented what was left of the never very big Ku Klux Klan presence in my then town came into my paper to cause a ruckus, the result of which was the editor grabbing the fellow by the back of the neck and the seat of his pants and depositing him on the sidewalk outside. Both processes will accomplish the same thing, but one of them sure is more memorable.
Newspapers today are prettier, glitzier and more reader-friendly than they ever have been before. Our faces are nicer, but to paraphrase Bob Seeger, we ain’t got the same soul.
Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.