Friday, July 04, 2014

...The more they stay the same

PANAMA CITY BEACH — As of the end of June, I have now been at this job (or at least, employed in various jobs at this newsroom) for 21 years. The same week, my first child turned 26. This is the only job he remembers me ever having.

I thought about that a bit, picturing the me of 21 years ago rolling into town. I had more hair, fewer wrinkles, less debt, and lived in a state of blissful ignorance about the longevity of my heart, much less the trajectory of this thing that (in retrospect) I have to call a “career.”

But that train of thought, once it left the station, started me looking back at how things have changed around here in the past couple of decades. (That’s right: Now that I’m an old man, you may have to endure the occasional “back in my day” trips down the rabbit hole.)

In 1993, we still used a walkie-talkie style radio to keep in touch with reporters in the field. Production included wax paste-up of columns before pages were photographed for conversion to negatives that were used to — You know what? Never mind.

Photographers used film, and the photo lab always smelled of chemicals. Graphic artists used colored acetate sheets to create color effects, requiring multiple negative sheets — er, never mind.

And yet, most photos and art were printed in black-and-white. When I started posting our old photos to the website some years ago, like the one of Sir Loin, people complained that I was turning color photos to black-and-white to make them seem more “vintage.” Nope. That’s how they were originally printed.

Local schools had newspapers. Students came to this office to do physical layout work.
I carried a beeper, and when it went off, I had to locate a pay phone or public phone to check in. Only rich people had car phones or those “cell phones” with the big battery backpacks.

In 1994, I covered a Gulf Coast (then-Community) College meeting in which Professor Joe Howell described the highlights of the so-called “Internet” database system and the advantages access would give to faculty and students in the future.

“In less than a minute, he had at his fingertips computer files in Iowa, Sweden and Asia — including professional journals, research information, job listings, electronic mailboxes and computer bulletin boards,” the report said. “There was even a file on ‘UFO and Alien Information’ — although he quickly skipped past it.”

There was no indication that morning of how such a simple file transfer system would evolve and change the world — much less the news business. By 1995, there was a debate over whether we needed Internet access in the newsroom; that year, I signed up for my personal email and was among the first reporters to list an email at the bottom of his stories.

In 2006, I became the newsroom’s first Online Editor. In 2011, when I moved over to, a fellow named Brady Calhoun became the online editor; he first showed up in this newsroom in 1995 as a student intern from Rutherford High School that I was assigned to supervise.

He had more hair, fewer wrinkles, and lived in a state of blissful ignorance about the trajectory of his newspaper career.

The more things change… You know the rest.

(This is my Undercurrents column for The News Herald and for July 4.)
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