I edited a story this week that mentioned In-N-Out Burger is allegedly coming to Ridgefield, along with the new Costco store. Instead of making me hungry, it made me think of some of the ins and outs I’ve seen in newsrooms over the last 40 years. Here are some of my observations, which I am deliberately keeping on the light side and avoiding all economic doom and gloom. Hey, it’s Saturday.
- In: Hybrid work. The pandemic forced newsrooms, newspapers and most office occupations into remote work. The pandemic has faded, thankfully, but hybrid and remote work is here to stay. It’s a boon for employees and allows us to retain valuable talent. (When one of our best copy editors moved to Georgia, we were able to keep him as a full-time employee.)
- Out: Buzzing newsrooms. Phones ringing. Keyboards clicking. Lots of people talking. Newsrooms used to busy, crowded and loud. There were a lot of side conversations about everything from pets to pet theories. I used to think of it as a daylong cocktail party without any liquor. I miss it.
- In: Healthy staff members. Several of our reporters and editors enjoy long backpacking trips. Our sports editor, Micah Rice, ran the Boston Marathon and is now into cycling. We have a number of yoga practitioners. And I would guess the number of vegans, vegetarians or people just concerned about their diet exceeds the average. I see many more water bottles than coffee cups.
- Out: Smoking and drinking on the job. Even back at my college newspaper, ashtrays were issued to every staff member. At my first two newspapers, smoking was permitted in the newsroom. My current office once had a wet bar along the far wall, and I’ve heard how the staff used to enjoy a cocktail in the afternoons after the paper was out.
- In: Notebook computers. Even before the pandemic, the company was in the process of issuing notebook computers to all of the reporters and some of the editors. They’re light, reliable and have a good battery life. If Wi-Fi isn’t available, a portable hot spot can connect them to the web. When we are in the office, we can hook them to monitors, so we can look at two screens at the same time.
- Out: VDTs. Those of us of a certain age remember the first generation computers, where reporters were issued large “video display terminals” on which to write our stories, often in green type. I remember my VDT would fail, usually on deadline, and I would have to unscrew the front panel, remove four large circuit boards, dust off the contacts, reseat them and then rewrite the story.
- In: Emails and press releases. I notice that government agencies now tend to issue press releases in response to all queries and answer reporters’ questions via email.
- Out: Phone calls. Even though everyone has a phone in their hands 16 hours a day, most news sources are worse than ever about calling reporters back. My guess is that this trend is due to the rise of public relations representatives and public information officers, who want a written record of every media contact.
- In: Digital images. It used to be that a couple of stories in every paper had photos. These days we want photos with almost every story so they can be displayed well on our website, in our newsletter and on social media. The photos are all digital. We haven’t had an active darkroom at The Columbian for more than 20 years.
- Out: Tri-X and contact sheets. Kodak Tri-X black-and-white 35 mm film was the workhorse for journalists. Once the film was developed, the negatives would be laid out on a sheet of photo paper to make a “contact sheet” that showed all of the images in miniature. From there, an editor would decide which photos to enlarge for use.
I miss some things about the old days, but I wouldn’t go back.