Following a brief, ill-considered and miserable experience in corporate public relations, I was able to get back to where I once belonged courtesy of The North Adams Transcript. I was in newspaper journalism again, with a renewed appreciation of the craft and about to learn just how good a small-town paper could be.
In this far-away time, when Jimmy Carter was president and the Red Sox were still cursed by the Bambino, the Transcript was in its building on American Legion Drive, conveniently located next to the American Legion and its bar. I arrived at the tail end of the Hardman era, when that prominent North Adams family owned and operated the Transcript. They were the North Berkshire version of the Berkshire Eagle’s Miller family, active members of the community and devoted custodians of the local newspaper.
Like the Eagle, the Transcript has long been known and respected well outside of its circulation area, and the Transcript newsroom when I arrived was an eclectic mix of Berkshire-rooted reporters, editors and photographers and newcomers from far and wide. Among them was Daniel Pearl, who went from the Transcript to The Eagle and eventually to the Wall Street Journal, where he was working when murdered by terrorists in Pakistan during the course of his investigation into the roots of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He is remembered not only for his excellent journalism but for the joy he took in life.
One of the pleasures of working for a small newspaper is that the beats must be flexible to get everything covered, especially in a newsy area like North Berkshires. A sportswriter at the time, I also did stories on actors at the Williamstown Theater Festival, covered an appearance by "Chicago 7" political dissident Abbie Hoffman, who had recently emerged from years in hiding, at a conference of fellow travelers in wooded Rowe, and chronicled the blood-sport that was and occasionally still is North Adams politics. Our friendly rivalry with the "big paper" from Pittsfield with its deep staff cruising the county in company cars helped energize us.
The dawn of a new era arrived in newspaper journalism, and at the Transcript, when the electric Smith-Coronas were sent to the dustbins of history and replaced by the first generation of computers. Transcript veterans were appalled, but to those of us who would repair to the nearby Dream Machine to play Dig-Dug, Ms. Pacman and other pioneering, early ‘80s video games, the newsroom computers seemed like a logical progression. Unhappily, those quirky and voracious early computers ate stories like M&Ms, usually on deadline.
Disappearing along with the electric typewriters was the teletype machine or "ticker," the clattering hulk that was a colorful supporting character in so many black and white newspaper movies. Day and night it would spit out news stories from Associated Press, United Press International and other syndicates, and occasionally a bell or two would sound to alert editors to major news stories.
One day in 1979, four bells sounded, causing those in the newsroom to freeze momentarily before leaping up as one to run to the machine. Four bells may have not sounded since Robert Kennedy was assassinated. On this day, we learned that the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania had sprung a leak of radioactive steam. Bad news arrives silently today, accompanied perhaps by the beep of a smart phone email alert, the modern-day equivalent of the bells of the teletype.
There are more memories than there is space to contain them on this page. As a former Transcripter, I’m pleased that the spirit and history of the paper will be incorporated in The Eagle. Beginning today, The Eagle editorial page masthead will remind readers that the North Adams Transcript will live on in The Eagle. Ideally for decades to come, on paper, on-line and in whatever form of communications technology still to be invented.
Bill Everhart is the editorial page editor of The Eagle.