Warning: If you are easily nauseated by stories that begin with, "Years ago, when I first started out in this business." you'll want to keep your barf-bag handy.
Consider yourself warned. Years ago, when I first started out in this business, there were newspapers still using lead type.
I was lucky enough to land my first job at a desk equipped with an electric typewriter, but at least one of my senior colleagues - partly out of preference, but also because there weren't enough electrics to go around - was still banging away at a sturdy black manual Underwood. (My electric was a Smith Corona.)
To conserve paper, we typed our stories on the blank backs of press releases that came in the mail, were left at the counter, or were dropped through the mail-slot in the front door. (It was purely a cost-saving measure: "recycle" was an uncommon word, and "environmentalist," if it was even coined yet, was rarer still.)
Stories were double-spaced, with extra-wide margins to leave room for second-thought, penciled-in changes and/or editors' marks.
Contrary to popularly distributed beliefs, there were (and are) no "drafts." Community reporters, unlike their much higher-paid cousins at the dailies and nationals, were expected to bang out the story. and get on with the next one.
A reporter was expected to formulate the story in his head (there were still relatively few "her" heads - journalism was still "a man's job") on the drive between the assignment and the office, and then "pour it out" onto the page.
You gave the story a cursory look and corrected any typos you could find - maybe even shifted a phrase or sentence - in the margins, and handed it to the editor.
There was little that could be more embarrassing than to find, after your story appeared in print, that the editor had had to make significant changes. except maybe finding your "first draft" back on your desk with "Rewrite!!!" blue-penciled over it - indeed, if that happened, it was a signal that you might be in the wrong line of work.
If you did your job reasonably well, the editor glanced at your stories and added headlines before sending them to the back shop, where they were laboriously retyped by professional typesetters.
I never got to see the lead-type process in real-life - the paper I started at had moved past that about a year or two before I was assigned my first story.
My stories came out of the typesetters' machines on ticker-tape that another machine turned into galleys of type on photographic paper. The galleys went to proofreaders who marked typos, messed-up punctuation, and obvious misspellings in the margins.
Corrections went through the whole typesetting process again, and then were pasted, line-byline, on top of the errant bits.
Then the galleys were snipped into strips by compositors who pasted them onto "flats."
Headlines were pasted on later, as were black-and-white photos (colour was a luxury afforded only for the Christmas edition, and required more than a month of preparation).
The flats went to the press in big cardboard boxes - which if jostled too much, resulted in some of the pasted pieces falling off the page, with sometimes hilarious (and occasionally disastrous) results on the newsstand.
This bit of nostalgia came oozing out of the nether corners of my brain while I was thumbing through last Thursday's edition of The TIMES, my iPhone and Layar turning each of those pages into an extension of an Internet that I hadn't even imagined as I sat down in front of my first electric typewriter.
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