July 10, 2017
By Arthur H. Gunther III
College is not for every one, and even for the collegiate, there may be a best time to go. It’s an individual moment, and getting there can be tough.
I was there, once, actually several times before the degree was conferred several years into actual work — newspapering — that I was suited to and in which I achieved some success.
In those 1960s days, you could sign on at a newspaper and begin schlepping as a copyboy, coffee gofer, office chair repair guy, whatever the minions of the newsroom wanted you to do. Some almost adopted you, calling you “kid,” and tossing you an extra 15 cents for java of your own. Others barely tolerated you, or so that seemed, but their gruff way was the teaching method. They, too, had been the copyboy.
If the newsroom liked you, if they saw a spark of talent — and they actually looked for that, for you must grow a new crop — they begin your training.
The “rim,” where the page layout editors sat in the old, non-digital days, would throw you a small story and ask you to write a headline of a certain point size that would fit the column width. The “slotman,” the rim’s chief editor, would look it over, maybe grunt, and if he liked it, would bundle it with the hard copy of the story and send both to be set in type, using a pneumatic tube system to the composing room.
The photography department might bring you into the darkroom and have you mix chemicals or wind exposed film on developing reels and then show you how to make prints.
You might get sent out with a reporter to watch him or her cover a story, or you might go with the photogs. You would never forget the adrenalin of that first fire or political demonstration, and you would feel empowered that the press gained access, albeit sometimes under duress, to accident and other scenes. You felt that you were helping get out the information that the people have the right to know.
Then you would go back to being a copyboy until that day came and you saw another eager fellow or gal walk through the newsroom door and learn your job. You had been promoted, thrown into the hurly-burly of newspapering as a reporter or photog or desk editor.
I made it to all three positions, as well as engraver and layout man, night city editor, editorial page editor, columnist. Also did my time in circulation and as general office fix-it guy.
These days many newspaper positions are gone as papers decline, or they have been absorbed into multitask, digital-driven jobs. The same zeal and search for information is there, though.
What is missing on most papers is the copyboy. You might need a masters in journalism these days just to get in the door. I had only a high school diploma through I obtained a college degree some years later, never telling the front office. What was the point? I already “held” a bachelors in on-the-job newspapering and would go on to get a seat-of-the-pants masters and maybe a Ph.D., thanks to the people who taught me, including the readers.
I was a lucky fellow to come through the newsroom door when I did.
The writer is a retired newspaperman. email@example.com