Heading into paper’s future, reflecting on industry change

Last week, I wrote about changes coming to our website and to The Herald-Sun in print that will allow us to better serve evolving demands of readers. Many of you have probably noticed the new look -- and much greater content -- on heraldsun.com; I’ve heard from many of you who liked it (and a couple with concerns) and I look forward to hearing from more.

And let me reiterate that your newspaper will have a new, more modern and impactful look beginning Monday. Let me know what you think about that, too.

As I’ve said often, including last week, I’m excited about the future. But these last few weeks have had me thinking about -- and sometimes boring colleagues with -- the enormous change that has enveloped the news industry in the half-century I’ve been privileged to be a part of it.

Some mementos of it are on a credenza in my office, and often draw comments from visitors.

There’s a Speed Graphic camera, once standard equipment in newsrooms across the country. You may have seen them in 1930s and ’40s-era movies that featured gaggles of photographers, “Press” placards stuck in there fedora hatbands. Heavy, bulky and requiring light-bulb-sized flashbulbs to shoot at night, a Speed Graphic was the first camera I used professionally, for my high-school yearbook and the paper I worked for part-time while in high school and college.

The one in my office used sheet film -- you’d take a shot, pull out the sheet holder, put in another. By the mid-1960s when I was using one, we’d progressed to a roll-film attachment. You could take eight shots on each roll.

Now, of course, we shoot videos and scores of photos on phones about the size of a deck of cards. A couple of taps on the screen and it’s on its way to a website or to print. Not so long ago, when someone in The Charlotte Observer’s Statesville bureau, for example, took some pictures, he or she would put the film on the bus to Charlotte. We’d send a cab to the bus station to pick it up so our photo staff could develop and print it.

Next to the camera in my office is an old Royal upright typewriter of probably a similar vintage. Pounding (especially for some of us with assertive fingers on the keyboard) stories out on that, keys jamming and their clatter providing newsroom white noise, you dreaded every typo that had to be corrected with whiteout or strike-throughs.

Then came the editing process, with notes scribbled by hand and paragraphs rearranged by, literally, cutting and pasting. My handwriting was (still is) terrible -- a 7th-grade teacher referred to it aptly as “chicken-scratching.” Had computers not arrived in The Raleigh Times newsroom about the time I became an editor on the city desk, an angry Linotype operator (yes, I’ve sent reams of copy to those) might have beaned me with one of the lead ingots melted down to make type.

Today, needless to say, the tools of our trade let us work exponentially faster and reach you quickly, often in real time. We’re stepping that up multiple levels with our changes.

For somebody who lives to gather, verify and disseminate news, it doesn’t get any better than this.