It was a newsroom that could only be replicated with difficulty today, even in a film. To paraphrase the Righteous Brothers, time -- and technology -- can do so much.
I was an intern and then a staff reporter at the North Adams Transcript during the late 1970s. Those were its last few years under the Hardman family, during what can only be described as a boom era for newspapers everywhere.
Having grown up in Williams town, this was my hometown paper, and unbelievably, my byline was soon going to appear on The Transcript's front page.
First though, I had to learn from the society editor how to take obits over the phone -- a depressing task for anyone in their 20s early in the morning -- and to pare down and fix up press releases, all of which came in on paper with no copy and paste options available.
Paper was, in fact, everywhere. Newsprint copy paper wound through the gray or dark green manual typewriters -- mostly Underwoods -- and was stacked on desktops and tables. It churned on rolls from the Associated Press teletype machine, bringing news from around the region and the world -- machine-gunning it out, letter by letter, word by word.
That Gatling-esque sound provided a rattling backbeat for the pop-popping of the Underwoods, which reporters and editors pounded with ever-greater intensity as deadline approached. Pounded is the correct term, as touch-typing those cranky keys would not get it done.
In fact, that rousing deadline overture is something I recall every so often, probably because I miss it in the modern newsroom. It was somehow more communal and inspiring: Picture an entire news team careening in an unmufflered Model T toward the finish line.
That afternoon deadline we had, which was common for local papers of the era, also helped to compress the mad typing of all hands into a few short hours. On morning papers, the late night deadlines have rarely seemed as intense, and never as much a shared experience.
I guess I don't miss the cigarettes -- just about everybody puffed away back then, especially on deadline. I say "guess" as I was certainly one of them, and for a long while I was convinced no one could write well without a butt beside them, swirling smoke from an overloaded ashtray.
Another clear image: The legendary Transcript government reporter James V. Walsh with one of those large square glass ashtrays on his desk, amid mounds of copy paper and stacks of reporter notebooks. The city fire inspector once warned the Hardmans they might be slapped with a violation notice if something wasn't done about Jim's desk.
Writing the news back then -- about a year before The Tran script got its first electronic system -- was all about manipulating words on paper. For many years afterword, until the technology produced reliable and functional computers (with incredible features like spell check), I still thought paper was the best method in terms of quality, and often enough, timeliness.
Basically, we wrote on 8-by-11 newsprint sheets, and then went at it with fat black pencils to make corrections or insertions. Then the editors did the same. If an entire paragraph had to go, we would type it on a separate sheet and cut that out with scissors and "paste" it into the story.
No, not copy and paste. This meant clipping out the old paragraph and then gluing the new one in with your "glue gun," or long-necked oil can that produced a narrow stream of rubber cement. Sometimes, a story would grow to interesting lengths of spliced-together sheets.
Then it was off to the typesetters. They were blur-fast typists who entered everything cleanly into their machines, which spit out columns of type and headlines, ready to be pasted onto newspage-size sheets in the production department. Next, if you followed the process, came the camera room, which created metal sheets with the image of a newspage that were fitted onto the press.
Then, after a quiet time, a door to the newsroom would burst open and someone would rush in with a stack of inky copies and you could hear the rumbling of the press.
Obviously, there were multiple steps then that are no longer required, but that also means far fewer people in the workplace. That huge newspaper family is something else I miss -- also the parties.
I can see now -- though we couldn't then -- that that was a high-water mark for the industry, especially for community newspapers. I would guess it produced the fattest papers The Transcript ever printed, supported a circulation of well over 12,000, not to mention news bureaus in Williamstown and Adams and, I believe, seven full-time reporters, a couple of half-timers, multiple layers of editors on up to "Big Jim" Hardman in the corner office, and correspondents in places like Cheshire, Savoy and Pownal and Readsboro in Vermont.
Of course, we didn't realize then how the economics of the industry would so drastically change, and how technology would render whole newspaper departments obsolete while creating competition from amazing electronic media to eat away the old sources of ad revenue.
From a technical standpoint, this industry has progressed mightily over the past three-plus decades, but it has lost a lot at the same time. At least the part that is now lost remains in the memories of those who experienced it. That will have to do.
And thundering manual typewriters aside, I'll happily report that I wrote this column without once resorting to the glue gun -- or to the dictionary or an encyclopedia. That stuff, no one misses.
Jim Therrien, who later served as editor of The Transcript, is now a reporter and editor at The Berkshire Eagle.