mourning what I’ve missed

I blame this post, and the mourning it is causing, on Facebook.

I just finished looking on the site at about 160 photos of journalists, some I’ve worked with at The Indianapolis Star. The journalists worked together at The Indianapolis News, which still existed when I first came to Indianapolis to work as a copy editor. Both staffs shared an office at that time. I remember sometimes coming in around 4 or so to start my shift, only to find a bunch of people I didn’t really know finishing up theirs. A lot of those people I know now in one way or another. Some moved over to The Star when The News shut down. A lot of those people are in these photos.

To be honest, I don’t know most of them that well. But this post and the feelings surrounding it aren’t about those people at all.

It’s not that I don’t like them or don’t miss them. I do like them. I do miss them. But it’s more about the feelings I get when I look at the photos. It’s like I’m mourning something I wanted so badly and never got the chance to have. At least not the way it always was in my mind.

Let me try to explain.

When I look at several of the photos, I see an active newsroom. I see men smoking. I see people SMILING. I see messy desks and people on phones. I can practically hear the tapping of the old typewriters and can smell the stinky inky air. I can feel the newsprint. I can see it smeared on all their hands.

It’s the newsroom of my dreams as a young gal and a newbie journalist.

It’s the newsroom I never saw.

You see, while I did have a few of those things, it wasn’t the same. Yes, I worked in the composing room with hot wax machines. I used Exacto knives to cut and place type. I had the ink on my fingers. I picked fresh, still-moist newspapers up the second they rolled off the press. I took long, deep breaths while walking past the pressroom. I typed on an old computer (not the same as a manual typewriter for sure). I designed pages in a clunky pagination system (Egads! The horror!). I even used all those ancient tools journalists today have never even seen or touched (pica pole, proportion wheel, etc.). I can even still count out a headline the old-fashioned way. Know how many spaces an M takes up? How about an i? I do.

So yeah. I’ve been there. But I never did see the smoke, the men in crisp, white shirts and ties. I never heard the screaming, swearing editors (OK, well maybe a few times) and never saw gruff old-timers take a swig of Jack Daniels at their desk. I never felt the thrill of that kind of newsroom. The thrills were there in the newsrooms I’ve been in, sure. But for some reason, I just know it was not the same.

I know some people would be like, “Why would you WANT editors yelling and screaming and people smoking and all white dudes ruling the newsroom?” It’s simple. That’s the newsroom I pictured the entire time I was growing up. That’s what I read about in All the President’s Men. That’s what I thought it would be like. That’s what I was craving. The noise. The chaos. The excitement.

Being a journalist is like no other job I can think of, and maybe that’s because it’s the only real job I have ever known. But there is a special passion in people who want to gather and share stories, photos and information. I don’t know how to explain it. If you’re one of us, you just know. Because you feel it, too.

And most definitely, if you saw these old, black and white shots, your heart would hurt just a little bit as well. Especially when you realize just how fast that type of newsroom went up in smoke.

Almost as fast as the modern newsrooms are following behind.

And that, my friends, is heartbreaking.

P.S. As I write this, news has hit that Walter Cronkite has died. Heart. Hurting. Worser.

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