"Rambling" by Russel Skiles, TPA President 2012-13
Earlier this year I was looking through a filing cabinet in the old photo darkroom when I came across the memory card for our first digital camera.
Labeled as a Digital Camera Storage Adapter, it was an inch and a half wide, over three inches long, and almost a quarter-inch thick — about the size of an entire digital camera today.
The card had a whopping 4 MB of memory. If I remember right, that was enough for maybe 12 photos — photos that would become too pixelated if printed any larger than two columns wide.
It is a true dinosaur by today’s digital standards.
Our industry has seen an amazing technical transition in just the three-plus decades I’ve been in the business.
One of my fellow publishers in a neighboring community is gray-headed enough to remember the old linotype days. The smoke-blackened metal ceiling in one of our back rooms is a reminder of that era, when fires were used to melt lead type.
My own newspaper memories begin during the days of photo typesetting with Compugraphic machines. And I vaguely remember something about a machine producing long strips of paper punched with holes — whatever that was.
A recent exchange of comments on the TPA publisher’s listserver showed little love lost for the messy waxing machines that some of us still used until just a few years ago. My wife, a young typesetter in the early 1980s, still laughs out loud when she recalls the day a somewhat-cranky ad manager got his necktie caught in the waxer’s rollers. Obviously thinking he was about to be pulled in and choked to death, a flash of fear crossed his face before he realized he could easily pull the tie back out. Only his ego and his tie suffered any damage.
The first newspaper computer I recall basically filled a climate-controlled room in a daily’s basement. As impressive as it seemed at the time, it almost certainly had only a tiny fraction of the computing power of today’s smart phones.
Yes, the tools of our trade have undergone plenty of changes in recent years.
Most, like digital cameras and computers when they work properly, have made our job easier than ever before. Photoshop can do so much more in a split second than we ever could achieve during hours in the darkroom. Creating pages while sitting in a comfortable chair with a mouse in hand sure beats leaning over tables to cut and paste with wax and a razor blade.
New equipment and technology have demanded entirely new skill sets. Instead of loading film onto developing reels in the dark we’re now uploading video onto websites.
Those changes have brought plenty of challenges as well — challenges we’re now wrestling with as we seek to discover the best methods to deliver our product in a rapidly evolving digital world filled with all sorts of portable communication devices.
Yet many of the more personal aspects of our business have changed little over the years.
Reporters still need an inborn curiosity and the ability to develop sources, get facts right, and craft sentences that stir emotions.
Good salesmanship skills, whether selling print ads or marketing our product online, remain vital to keeping revenue flowing, our doors open and our websites up and running.
Camera phones are ever-present in today’s society, but consistently getting great photos that grab our readers’ attention and tell a story requires much more than simply pushing a button.
Having learned to type when electric typewriters were just coming into their own, I was momentarily surprised a few years ago when a young new employee told me she didn’t have any idea about how to operate a typewriter.
But that’s OK, because she has been able to do more on a computer than anyone could ever make happen with an old clunky typewriter.
And while my long-tenured sportswriter may still type — or keyboard — with two fingers, he has an amazing talent for keeping track of every sport, every coach and every player that ever came through any of the six high schools in our coverage area. He has become something of a local sports legend himself.
Technology has certainly transformed the tools we use, but it still takes good people with good skills to get the job done right.