The older I get, the grumpier I get. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve reached the age where I can’t get much crabbier. But I keep trying.
I once read, with much interest, an Atchison Globe column about technology knowledge — or rather lack of it. I’ve often wondered, how can I have a meaningful smackdown with something that hides in a computer monitor? I will work my way through this technological maze if it’s the last thing I do. And heaven help me, I’m beginning to think it might be.
Back in 1960, I took on my first newspaper job at the “old” Globe, down on Fifth Street, where it was just about the only building left after the 1958 flash floods of the creeks that run through Atchison to the Mighty Mo.
It was a sweaty job, due to the “Hellboxes,” the hot lead linotypes that set one letter at a time in the composing room. A few months after I went to work, Atchison Globe moved to a new building on Main Street and went to cold type, known as offset. I easily learned the new process; my brain was very young then.
Now, I have empathy for the all-male composing room workers of yore, union men who tried to strike to avoid losing their jobs to tricky cold type machines. It was futile; they were swept away on the wave of the future, replaced by young women whose first newspaper jobs were simplified by the tricky machines.
Hiawatha World had already gone cold type when Globe staff moved into the new building and immediately put to the bed the first offset issue, a Sunday morning paper we slapped together one memorable Saturday night. Ewing Herbert, World owner/publisher, and his wife Delores were on hand to guide us through that first effort.
A copy of that sloppy effort hangs on the wall of the Globe today, with the dashes —known as 30m for long and 3m for short — hand-drawn by pen, but looking as if put on with burnt matchsticks.
But it got better. I would edit all the reporters’ copy and the young women converted it via electronic typesetters to words on film. Then I would measure the words in each article, and use a pencil and ruler to sketch that copy onto “dummy sheet” 8x11 inch pages of Atchison Globe, as I and the reporters continued to use manual typewriters.
The non-union composing room crew trimmed the film and fed each piece through a machine that put wax on its backside, and then they stuck the waxed film full size pages to go to the press room. I learned how those pages were burned into metal, and how the metal was inked as it ran through the press and came out in the form of newspapers.
During that time, Paul Allingham, Globe publisher, gave me an hour lunch and two 15 minute coffee breaks one day, time enough for me to run to the courthouse and get married before press time. I wed the man from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who was overseeing construction of the “cut and cover conduit” that still funnels runoff water from the creeks into the river so the 1958 floods won’t be repeated.
When that flood protection chore was done, Capt. Steve James was transferred to the Corps’ Omaha office, and his new wife — namely me — had to go with him.
I was hired as farm advertising manager for the Omaha World-Herald, where I had to learn to put up with a very error-prone early-day computerized newspaper. Under tight security and a daily search of my purse when I entered the office, as ousted union workers replaced by faulty computerized stuff were doing all they could to sabotage their former employer and even blow up the “Weird Herald” building.
I survived that and the Jameses were finally transferred back to the Corps’ KC office. Five months and one divorce later, I became an Atchison Globe reporter, then farm editor (a title bestowed in lieu of a pay raise).
Then I took off again to follow another guy to Hastings, Nebraska, where I worked as city editor of Hastings Tribune, and I kind of lost track after that. I do recall leasing and operating my own weekly newspaper in a little Iowa town — where I was publisher, editor, copysetter, ad salesperson, office manager and complete composing room crew — before I again landed at the Globe. I voluntarily left again when it was sold to the News-Press & Gazette Company, which still owns it.
When I returned to Atchison Globe about nine years ago — after weeks of begging to be reinstated, I finally wore down publisher Joe Warren — I began to learn the very latest in publishing software/processes. I felt I was finally getting a grasp on it. And then came a new computerized system, BLOX. OMG, I thought, OMG being the one and only tech-speak term I’ve learned to interpret.
I thought, look out BLOX. I’m a lot older than you, and I’ve seen it all, newspaper-wise. I even remember when wooden blocks (not BLOX) were used in printing Atchison Daily Globe, so there. I’ll shuffle off this mortal coil — and I’m almost as old as Wm. Shakespeare, who coined that phrase — decked out in my sequined sneakers, having learned how to deal with this fresh printing Hell.
Editor’s Note: This column has been adapted from a 2013 publication.