Sunday, January 6, 2013

It was 40 years ago today, more or less

Posted By on Sun, Jan 6, 2013 at 9:19 AM

IN CHARGE OF ALL I SURVEY: At the Arkansas Gazette city desk in 1973.
  • IN CHARGE OF ALL I SURVEY: At the Arkansas Gazette city desk in 1973.

My, the years fly.

Forty years ago, one day in early January, I filled the trunk (that's all it took) of a Buick Skylark with all my possessions and headed from Lake Charles, La., north toward a new home in Little Rock. I had been hired as a general assignment reporter ($130 a week) at the Arkansas Gazette. A garage apartment in North Little Rock ($80 a month, furnished, including gas and water, but not the roughly $7 monthly electric bill) would eventually be my first residence.

That picture was taken not long after my arrival by either Steve Keesee or John Partipilo. I was filling the very big chair of legendary city editor Bill Shelton. On Sunday in those days, a reporter occasionally got tapped to fill in. We'd check the papers for stories to follow, answer the phone, read the obits and assign to the single other reporter whatever might turn up to be covered on sleepy Sundays. That's why you see no one in the background of the old Gazette newsroom. The copy desk staff would arrive later and occupy the "rim" in the background. Barely visible is the old conveyor belt that transported paper copy to the back shop, filled with Linotype machines and the union journeymen who operated them.

Computers? Heck, the fax machine hadn't even been invented (OK, it may have been invented but it was a decade away from regular use). But, despite all that, and the need to set type and then proof the words rattled out by me and my kind, the deadlines for final copy were later then than they are now in the computer age.

Memorably, my old colleague Paul Johnson held the press until the wee hours of the morning, maybe 2 a.m., to get my final coverage of Police Chief Gale Weeks climbing up the tower on the Junction Bridge to take into a custody a sniper who'd terrorized downtown one cold Sunday night in 1974. I arrived home about 4 a.m. or so, just as the Gazette delivery man plopped a paper with my story on the doorstep of my apartment.

Lots of tales and memories of departed friends and colleagues have accumulated over the years. The tools have changed. And the Gazette, whose courage in a great struggle inspired me to apply here, is gone. But the thrill of covering the news hasn't diminished a bit. If anything, instantaneous delivery of news to a worldwide audience has enhanced it.

Style notes: Nice shirt, eh? And, believe it or not, I had cut my hair substantially before joining the Gazette as a bow to the very correct managing editor, Bob Douglas, who hired me, at Shelton's urging, after an initial polite rejection. Blame them for what followed.

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