From typewriters and linotype machines to computers and the Internet.
Those were just some of the changes I’ve seen in the news business during my six decades of writing for newspapers.
So now, in another sign of the changing times, I’m starting my own website.
On this site, I plan on commenting on current events – giving my opinions and observations – as well as talking about how things used to be.
I won’t try to say things were better back in the day. Times change and you have to change with them. Which is why I am now blogging. But they were definitely different.
Sometimes, I feel like a buggy-whip maker driving a race car because things have changed with the speed of light.
When I had my first bylined story published in the Grand Rapids Herald in 1956 when I was still in high school, the news business hadn’t changed much in decades.
You wrote stories on a typewriter, they were pencil edited and then set into type on a linotype machine (you can Google it). It was a Rube Goldberg type contraption invented in the late 19th century.
And the wire services filed their stories on teletype machines, which could send 66 words a minute. So a 660-word story took 10 minutes to file.
Then, as now, the business was in a crisis. Two-newspaper towns were disappearing. My first paper died while I was in college. The surviving Grand Rapids paper now delivers three days a week. Shortly after I moved to New York in 1966 to work for UPI, three papers – the New York Herald Tribune, New York World-Telegram & Sun and New York Journal-American – merged into one and then folded. Poof, just like that, three papers died.
The upside was that in a one-paper town, the one paper became very profitable and ushered in what will go down as the golden age of newspapers. Then the Internet changed everything along with the millennials’ preference for online content. More newspaper jobs have been lost than coal jobs in recent years, but nobody campaigns on bringing back newspaper jobs.
I was lucky to be in the business back in the day when sports teams were eager for coverage before the era of the big TV contracts. The Giants and Jets had weekly lunches, and Weeb Ewbank would even show films. The opposing team’s PR man would visit to promote his team.
You could go into the locker room and casually talk to a player one-on-one. In Pittsburgh, you could go into the team dorm at training camp and knock on a player’s door to interview him. And you got a list of all the players’ phone numbers. The Jets allowed writers in the locker room before games – even before Super Bowl III. You could call Pete Rozelle … and he would return your call.
That all started to change when coaches became control freaks who wanted to speak with one voice. Now the league has to order the teams to open the locker room for specified times and to make the coordinators available once a week. Most of the interviews are group deals that PR men cut off after a few minutes by saying, “last question!” — although they do tend to transcribe the interviews. And quarterbacks tend to talk once a week and then they go into TV when they retire. Go figure.
I was also lucky to be in a lot of the the right places at the right times. I did find out how the other half lives when I moved to Jacksonville to cover the Jaguars and the NFL for the Florida Times-Union and the Jaguars became a dysfunctional franchise with one playoff win since 1999.
On the other hand, I was in New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the Jets, Mets and Knicks won titles. In my first six years in Pittsburgh covering the Steelers for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the team won four Super Bowls and went 13-2 in playoff games in that span. With nine Hall of Famers, a Hall of Fame coach and two Hall of Fame owners, the Steelers built a legacy no one will duplicate in the salary cap era. I know you can’t live in the past, but what a past.
In Baltimore, I covered the departure of the Colts for the Baltimore Sun on a snowy night in 1984 and two of Joe Gibbs‘ title teams with the Redskins in Washington.
And before the NFL became a year-round beat, I covered things like the World Series, the first Ali-Frazier fight, NBA and NHL games and Texas Western (now Texas-El Paso) winning the 1966 NCAA basketball title to become the first all-black team to pull off that feat.
And while I’ll talk about my experiences covering big events in the past, I’ll also stay current on the stories of the day.
One of the biggest stories in the next few years is whether the NFL will continue to grow or plateau and decline. Was the TV ratings dip last year a onetime thing or a trend? Is the league missing the leadership of a commissioner like Rozelle? Do they have a problem with oversaturation? Or was last year just a blip on the radar screen?
And I’ll have plenty of opinions. You may not agree with most of them or any of them – like my observations on how the NFL is treating Colin Kaepernick. But I hope that will make it interesting.
You’re welcome to join me for the ride.