A Look at Old School Journalism

When I wrote for my college newspaper, the Ball State Daily News, one of the things I liked to do was to put some paper in the manual typewriter, hammer out a few sentences, rip it out of the typewriter, and yell “COPY!!” which would always crack my editor up.

This was back in about 1988, when we thought that kind of news writing — furiously banging out news copy on clackety old typewriters — was old-fashioned, and that nobody did it anymore. After all, we were nearly at the 21st century, using dummy terminals to put all of our news into a mainframe that would process the story into a single column, where it could be printed, cut, waxed, and pasted up on the layout page.

The fact that I just used terms that most younger readers don’t know — paste up, wax, typewriter — probably renders the whole COPY!! joke unfunny.

I recently spoke to some journalism classes at Ball State about how to blog for newspapers. I tried referencing a few of my student journalism experiences, and even told an OJ Simpson story, and was met with blank stares. I didn’t realize until later that many of these students were born the year before I got married. They were two when the OJ Simpson trial was going on.

Still, I always appreciate the history of journalism, and I like knowing things about it, like the fact that copy boys were the boys who ran around the newsroom, grabbing papers out of writers’ hands. Writers who had just ripped their story out of the typewriter and shouted “COPY!!

I was interested to find this video in a post, “How to be an Old School Journalist,” on Alltop.com. While the segment at 5:06 may be a little… upsetting, keep in mind that the video is around 70 years old.

Although I’m not sure exactly how old the movie is, you get some clues just by looking at the hats and suits, the cars, and even the phones. It’s an interesting look at what they thought of journalists — and women — back in those days.

It’s even more interesting when you realize how far we have come as a news gathering society.

  • According to Google’s Eric Schmidt, we produce as much data in 2 days as we produced from the dawn of history up to 2003.
  • More women blog than men. In fact, the Blogher Network boasts 2,500 women bloggers as part of their network alone.
  • A story written for a blog can be produced in minutes, not hours. Publication of a post is immediate. No typesetting, printing, or delivery. Hit Publish, and it’s out there. A news story can be written in minutes, but then it has to be pasted up (electronically, of course), and then printed, and delivered. The shortest amount of time it can take is 4 – 6 hours from the completion of the story.
  • To own a major newspaper takes millions of dollars and requires specialized knowledge to run specialized machines that only serve one purpose: to put ink on paper. To run a major blog takes a $1,000 laptop and a wifi connection. And when you’re done, you can watch a movie on it.

In Linchpin (affiliate link), Seth Godin talks about how the factory, the means of production, can be owned for $3,000 for a laptop (Seriously? $3,000? Seth, call me. I’ve got a deal on a few Dells for you, 2,000 bucks each.)

Bil Browning, owner of the Bilerico Project (the largest LGBT news blog on the web) runs his blog with four directors/editors, and 90 contributors (I even contributed an article last year). But he doesn’t have an office, doesn’t have printing presses, doesn’t have any overhead, other than his servers, and the salaries for him and his four directors. When I compare the low cost — $1,000 for a laptop — and ease of which he is able to reach hundreds of thousands of readers each month versus the time and effort we put into reaching people via newspaper today versus the time and effort we put into reaching people via newspaper 70 years ago, it’s a wonder we ever got it done at all. It’s also easy to see how Bil is able to reach his readership much more easily and cheaply than most big city newspapers.

Watch the video, see how our grandparents and great-grandparents got their news and information, and see if you’re not amazed.

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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency in Indianapolis, IN. He co-authored three social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (2nd ed., 2012; Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.

    Comments

    1. I’ve actually written about that list a few times in my humor column a few times, and forgot all about it. I figured they would have at least known about OJ, what with him having been in the news again this year. Guess they won’t be interested in any Devo albums then, huh?

    2. Michael Henry Starks says:

      Before speaking to any audience under the age of 25, you might want to first check the Beloit College Mindset List. Here’s the list for the class of 2014: . Regarding that class, “For these students, Benny Hill, Sam Kinison, Sam Walton, Bert Parks and Tony Perkins have always been dead.”

    3. You’re too kind, Ed. Too kind. :)

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