Originally created 09/08/02

Tricks of trade fall out of style



Modern newspaper editors don't have time to read the newspaper. They spend their days in lengthy brainstorming sessions with other editors wherein they try to decide what to do about the Internet.

- Dave Barry

Today's fine, young journalists don't have nearly the fun we used to.

They have cell phones and fast computers and outside interests.

Their socks match; their stocks are diversified.

We were different at their age.

We called journalism our "craft," and we were crafty at it. It was a trade that had its share of tricks.

For example, you always left the office with a pencil.

Ink pens were notorious for running dry at the worst times. Frigid, outdoor crime scenes rendered them useless.

A pencil, however, was your friend.

It would write even if you were taking notes in the rain. And if the point broke, all you had to do was quickly chew on the end and you were back in business.

There was something else you did before a big news event - you found a working pay telephone.

Most small-town courthouses had only one, and you wanted to claim it.

The best way, I found, was by making a small handwritten note ahead of time that read "OUT OF ORDER."

You would tape this to the phone before the big trial or press conference and, nine times out of 10, it would be free to use when everyone else rushed out looking for a phone to call in their big story.

And placing such notes was instructive.

For one thing, you always knew to be wary of someone who didn't trust homemade signs. A reporter who checks out all the facts and doesn't trust the first sign of difficulty is worthy competition.

Sadly, we don't really worry that much about capturing the pay phones any more.

The Chicago Tribune reported the other day that the pay phone business is just about shot.

Half of the U.S. population has a cell phone in its pocket, the newspaper said, and the pay phones once available on almost every corner are vanishing.

The world has certainly changed.

Our newspapers have taken on the colorful look of magazines. Our typewriters have been donated to museums.

And Superman, who chose to be a newspaper reporter in his other identity, would be in trouble today.

There are no phone booths in which to change.

Reach Bill Kirby at (706) 823-3344 or bkirby@augustachronicle.com.