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Down the Road

The miracle of getting your story there
By Milt Gross
Jan 3, 2010 - 12:10:56 AM

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When I first became a stringer, a freelance reporter, for the Bangor Daily News way back around 1972 or thereabouts, we did things a lot differently than today in this year of 2010.

I was a second-year teacher, making very little money and needing a summer job.

"I'll drive up to the Bangor Daily News," I said to me, since when I say things to me I think at least someone is listening, me, "and see if they need a janitor or truck driver for the summer."

But Ken Ward, who was then some kind of editor, told me he was sorry but there were no janitor or truck-driving jobs available.

Oh, well, another dream shot down (ending a sentence with a preposition, thereby proving I still don't know how to write).

"But how would you like to write for us?" Kent asked.

Next thing I knew I was a stringer. Kent gave me a pile of news copy paper, really cheap stuff, a pile of self-addressed, prepaid envelopes in which to mail my copy to the newspaper, and an "800" number to phone in really hot stories.

A typist would type the "really hot" stories while I read them to him over the phone.

There weren't a lot of "really hot" stories in the Swanville area at the time, but I do remember doing a couple of fires and phoning them in to a typist.

"We're glad you're getting all these fire stories," said whoever was typing it, "but we hope you're not setting them."

I wasn't.

That was how it was done then.

Then it got better, the electric typewriter, at my first full-time news reporter job at the Advertiser-Democrat, a weekly in Norway, Maine. Wow! An electric typewriter. This was "real hot" stuff on which to write all my stories, replacing the rebuilt manual Underwood my father had bought me when I went off to college to try to learn a little something.

We typed with either special paper or special ink, I think ink, if I'm remembering those now dark ages correctly. Then we put the typed sheet into a slot in a room, which housed a giant computer. At the other end of the room was a slot out of which came news print ready to be physically pasted onto an empty page.

Make a typo? And who doesn't? Type just the correction, put that through the giant computer, and, presto, there's your correction. Now just cut out the original mistake and press this onto it.

There was a kind of glue on the back of the newsprint.

Pretty spiffy, huh? Until along came the first little Macintosh, a cute little beastie that required disks. Remember disks? The little critters that evolved -- if you believe in evolution, and I guess I do as far as computer stuff goes -- eventually into CDs and DVDs that work so much better. (And the CDs and DVDs rarely tell you the disk is no good, as those old disks too frequently did. No good, that is, after you've typed your story onto one. After losing and rewriting a story on a deadline day, I always backed everything up -- and still do, only in 2010 with a thumb drive that is much more roomy and dependable.)

I figured I'd get fired, because I wouldn't be able to learn to use this teeny, tiny Mac. At first I typed my stories on the electric typewriter and then retyped them onto the Mac. Within two weeks, I was hooked, writing my tales of questionable news directly onto the tiny Mac. You'll never get me off of a Mac again.

And, except for two years in an agency where I was required to use the cool, popular brand computer that kept crashing, I always have used Macs -- including the one on which I'm now typing.

I think we each printed our own stories in those days. But maybe not. That's been a few years ago. We either did or we didn't, and if we didn't, a central system printed them for us.

No e-mail then.

No e-mail when I worked for the Lewiston Sun Journal either. They gave me an "800" number, which I typed into my laptop. If the line wasn't busy, you got through and your tale got told by the computer's sending it through the phone line. (I went through about four laptops a year, because they didn't like having coffee or Italian sandwich oil spilled or dripped into them. The paper gave me another one each time one ingested too much coffee or veggie oil and had the leaked-into one repaired.)

The Sun Journal, a daily, was the most fun, because I didn't need to work in an office. Writing from home was much more comfortable. And there was no weekly deadline to meet, just ship your tale of whatever to the paper and  head off to bed.

When I moved to the Bar Harbor area, I used the same system to get those not-so-famous tales of Acadia National Park and the island towns from the Ellsworth American laptop to their office.

It wasn't until after Dolores became seriously ill and I left that weekly to try to retire and began writing for other papers part-time as a freelancer that e-mail became the train to carry my tales to the paper.

In those "good old days" with film photography, I either had to develop the photos myself in the weeklies or get them to the local office from which a truck would deliver them to the Sun Journal. Now, in these much better days, you just e-mail your digital photos as well.

Would I ever go back to those "good old days," typing onto copy paper and mailing those tales to the editor? No way. What about that electric typewriter and the room-sized computer that went with it? No way.

This little tale of "how to" write stuff and get it there on time in 2010 will arrive at the Magic City News in Millinocket via Mongolia and R.P, who is editing and posting the stories. If R.P. so chooses, he can get this tale of the "not so good old days" versus these much better new days before I can walk out to the kitchen from my study in our house in the woods.

Which is good, because I'm getting hungry and supper is almost ready. Time to e-mail this to R.P. It's good, since I can think about supper while I'm walking.

And while R.P. is doing whatever he does with this to get it to the Magic City.


Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at lesstraveledway@midmaine.com

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2010


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