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Dept. of Ruminations

Looking Back, Looking Forward

In August of 1983, Bob Rockafield hired me to be a reporter for the Park Ridge Advocate, one of the weekly newspapers of Pioneer Press in suburban Chicago.

When I walked into the newsroom for the first time, I had been a reporter for just over eight years, had worked for two small dailies in Canada and was deeply grateful, after two and a half years away from an actual job in the business, to sit back down in front of a typewriter and pick up a phone again, ready to talk to people, find out things and write stories so that readers could know what was going on in their town.

I used a  land line phone - a dial phone, if I recall correctly - and a manual typewriter. When I wrote my stories for my now long-gone editor,  I used two carbons between three sheets of paper,  so that I had a copy, my editor had a copy and the back shop had a copy so that they could set it into type. When I cut and pasted paragraphs I cut them with scissors and pasted them with glue (I can't remember it slowing me down any, but that's probably because I didn't notice how bad a writer I was back then.) I had to slow my daily-honed rhythms down to a slower pace, but that didn't take long. The slower pace allowed me time to become a better reporter and a better writer.

In short, all was largely for me as it had been at my two previous papers. And as far as I was concerned, that was a good thing.  I settled into my work as happily as a babe settles in at its mother's breast.  I'd fallen into my profession by accident, but I loved it as much as that babe loves its mother. What mattered was that I was a reporter again.

(Please note that I wasn't a journalist; even at the comparatively young age of 28, I hated being called a journalist. "Alexander Pope was a journalist," I'd tell people. "I report." I still feel that way, although I'm less reticent to talk about journalists and journalism than I once was.)

And here at Pioneer I've stayed, and stayed happily. I've rarely even looked for another position, save for a brief time when I tried to find work up in Minnesota. Thirty years, five separate papers, nine different editors, seven different owners (including one, Conrad Black, who gutted the company and its employees of millions of dollars and got, relatively speaking, a slap on the wrist and at least one book contract for it); six or so labor contract cycles, at least four of them as a member of the negotiating team. More than a handful of local, regional and national writing and reporting awards, I'm not too humble to mention, although it's been at least 15 years since I competed for such things.

I'm still here, but the world has changed. I once more report on a daily, or near daily rhythm. The dial phone, the push-button phones that followed it, indeed the land line itself, has become a thing of the past. Few of my working compatriots would know how to cut and paste a story - or, indeed, how to slip two pieces of carbon paper between three sheets of cheap typing paper and put them into a manual typewriter.

I have a laptop computer and a recently issued iPad; I have a smart-phone. I have wi-fi. I have a home office, one I've often preferred writing from, depending on who was in charge at Pioneer Galactic Headquarters.

But I have no newsroom.

My seventh set of owners decreed last December that all of their suburban properties would shut their physical doors this year. Those properties -  Pioneer's weekly newspapers, some small outlying dailies - would continue publishing, but there was no longer any need for the physical plants, they said. The sole remaining physical plant would be in downtown Chicago, home of the Chicago Sun Times newspaper. Our editors would all report down there, whether their paper was in suburban Chicago, in Joliet, Waukegan or Gary, Indiana. The reporters, the photographers, we were cut loose, to report "from the field" or, if we were lucky to be assigned a beat close to our home, from a home office.

I've written in this journal, over the past years, of various ups and downs at my job; of old owners, new owners, foolish decisions, maddening attitudes, incomprehensible policies and mandates, far too many of them caused by, and reflective of, an industry busy trying to tear its own throat out. (Somewhere out there, there's a Gahan Wilson cartoon: a couple of detectives standing in a restaurant kitchen, horrified chefs looking on as the two shake their heads over an arm sticking out of a meat grinder, its fingers still gripping the grinder's handle. On the floor below the grinder, a great deal of freshly ground meat.  "Most determined case of suicide I've ever seen." But I digress.)

In the weeks leading up to the closure of Pioneer's last office, a lot of things got thrown out. There simply is no room down at the Sun-Times for decades of bound volumes from almost three dozen weekly newspapers (some of which no longer publish), and several different dailies. Nor is there room for decades of local, regional and national award plaques, given to decades of gifted reporters, photographers, designers and even dedicated advertising folks.  No room, and less interest.

At Pioneer, some of those bound volumes found their way to local historical societies. Some reporters, some photographers and some designers were able to retrieve their awards (my own hang on my wall, mute reminders that I once had more fire in my belly than I now have.)

But most of them?

 photo 0000f0e8-bcf4-44c0-a809-44c469c179ed_zps873a57d6.jpg

I'll go on. But I am so very weary, and sorry, and sad.

This entry was originally posted at http://kaffyr.dreamwidth.org/253592.html?mode=reply, where there are currently comment count unavailable comments. You can comment there or here; I watch both.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 1st, 2013 12:52 pm (UTC)
Gahan Wilson's work is the standard by which all humourous cartoons should be measured but that is a digression.

My heart goes out to you. I understand what it means to see the place you worked at for so many years, slowly dismembered*. I could see it happening when I worked at the Canadian Wheat Board and I knew that the final act would come when the Reformatories took power. Now the once great marketing board wanders about like a shriveled and demented vegetarian zombie (muttering "Grains, I need Grains!").

*Dismemebered should be a word.
Apr. 1st, 2013 01:17 pm (UTC)
Now the once great marketing board wanders about like a shriveled and demented vegetarian zombie (muttering "Grains, I need Grains!").

Ah, this was precisely what I needed to read this cold April morning! Thank you for helping me start the day with a grin, and bless you for a witty man!

I remember that you had worked for the Canadian Wheat Board. So Harper's Horribles got at it, eh?
Apr. 1st, 2013 01:37 pm (UTC)
I think Harper had a personal vendetta against it.
Apr. 1st, 2013 06:10 pm (UTC)
Ah, Harper ... the man who would be a third-rate Bush and/or Thatcher. What a destructive influence he and his policies have had on my poor home and native land!
Apr. 1st, 2013 01:24 pm (UTC)
Aw, I am sorry. It is difficult, isn't it? :-/
Apr. 1st, 2013 06:11 pm (UTC)
It's surreal and sad by turns. Half the time I can't believe it's happened, even though I think I prepared for it better than some of my colleagues.
Apr. 1st, 2013 04:41 pm (UTC)
*hugs you hard*
Apr. 1st, 2013 06:12 pm (UTC)
*hugs back, equally hard*

Thanks, my dear.
Apr. 3rd, 2013 07:05 pm (UTC)
When Mao tried to destroy previous history, it was considered a bad idea by most.
Now, it's a standard strategy of our owners . . .
Apr. 8th, 2013 02:20 am (UTC)
We have always been at war with Eastasia.
Apr. 15th, 2013 03:43 pm (UTC)
Reading back through older entries in your journal . . .

Oh, this is sad. If you don't have a newsroom, how can you bounce random ideas off your co-workers?

I recently got a new desk at work, and in cleaning out my old desk of stuff that had been there since before I took the job, in 1990, I found carbon paper. It made me laugh. I don't think I'd ever used it in this job, but I certainly used it in previous ones. (I did a bunch of secretarial work in the 1980's, before I figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up.) I once had to show a work-study student here how to put a piece of paper into a typewriter. She had no clue.

I work in radio, and I have a whole set of obsolete skills that involve slicing reel-to-reel tape with a razor blade and sticking it back together with sticky tape. Nowadays, no one knows how to thread a reel-to-reel machine or cue up an LP. I still miss being able to tell which which was going to be the quietest track on an LP because, the grooves having less information carved into them, it looked shinier. You can't do that with CDs.

Now they keep telling us that eventually we won't even need the music library (which I still tend to call "the record library") because we'll have all the music stored in digital files. What will I do then, when I can't remember the name of the artist I want? Nowadays I can often find it, not because I know the name, but because I remember that it's on *that* shelf at about waist level and the CD spine is bright blue. You can't do that in a database.

Progress sucks sometimes, doesn't it?
Apr. 16th, 2013 05:39 am (UTC)
Oh, this is sad. If you don't have a newsroom, how can you bounce random ideas off your co-workers?

You can't, not easily. Email sometimes helps. Phonecalls, a bit. But, no ... and sadly, I haven't been at the newsroom regularly for a couple of years, in part because so few people were there any longer, many of us being chased from it by a steadily more toxic atmosphere, and because it was so far from my actual beat (my newsroom location got changed again and again before it disappeared entirely). And still I missed it. In the six months or so before it finally shut down, one very bad publisher ordered everyone in to the newsroom everyday. We hated it because it was an illogical order given by someone so inept that he was actually canned by almost equally inept top management ... yet the one positive was that we occasionally, for a few minutes at a time, would recapture the newsroom gestalt we once loved.

You're in radio! I have friends who are news-side radio here in Chicago, and I know how they've had to deal with all the changes you're talking about - and I totally understand your comments about this: What will I do then, when I can't remember the name of the artist I want? Nowadays I can often find it, not because I know the name, but because I remember that it's on *that* shelf at about waist level and the CD spine is bright blue. You can't do that in a database. (And one of my favorite radio stations here in Chicago, WXRT, is highlighting Record Store Saturday, something I love covering each year, because I remember and love vinyl (which dates me as even farther back on the news/information geologic record.)
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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