Retiring Features Editor Charles Bonenti reflects on Eagle tenure, changing news landscape.
Editor’s note: After four decades at The Eagle, Features Editor Charles Bonenti is retiring. He leaves today with these reflections amid a changing news landscape.
The Berkshire Eagle newsroom I first entered 40 years ago smelled of ink, newsprint, glue, coffee and cigarettes. At 28, I was one of a handful of young singles in a crew of family men who had worked there for years and expected to do so until they retired -- or dropped dead, as some did.
It was a noisy place. Stories were tapped out on typewriters or spewed from clattering teletype machines. Telephones rang until someone answered or the caller gave up. The was no such thing as voice mail.
We edited copy in pencil and sent it by pneumatic tubes to the production department, where it was retyped, proofed and transformed into page images on metal plates and run through the press to emerge as The Berkshire Eagle.
After deadline -- the paper was an afternoon daily at that time, with no Sunday edition -- owner Lawrence K. "Pete" Miller would amble up from his office, leaving a paper trail of comments on stories that caught his eye. It was Pete who brought me to The Eagle in 1973 to write about architecture and historic preservation, topics dear to him and his wife, Amy Bess, who was working hard to preserve Hancock Shaker Village.
In the newsroom of that era, reporters covering stories came back to The Eagle to write them, or called them in to an editor. There was no Internet, which meant no email, no laptops, no texting, no cellphones.
Facebook and Twitter, essential tools of the trade today, were unknown.
Digital archives were far in the future. Every day our librarian clipped and dated each story in the paper by hand and filed them in drawers of envelopes under a system she devised and alone could interpret. Those paper archives were among the artifacts that moved with the company from Eagle Street to South Church Street in 1990.
Today, I, too, am making a move. I am retiring from The Eagle, having attained the status of most senior (though not oldest) member of the news staff. My byline will appear from time to time, but I no longer will be at my desk.
The newsroom I'm leaving is far different from the one I joined. It is younger, more diversified racially, and more gender balanced. Today's reporters gather data online with lightning speed, post news updates continually on our website and on Facebook and Twitter, and are reachable anywhere, any time, by cellphone. Quick and ambitious, they arrive, stay a few years and move on, ever alert to new opportunities in the fluid global job market.
Seldom in the field
In my years as a desk editor, first in news and then in features, my job was to assign, edit and rewrite stories and to design pages. I was seldom out in the field. Still, the news -- a fire, bank robbery, weather event -- found us. When it did, we responded like any other trained emergency crew -- manning our stations, seeking and feeding information to each other, working fast to compile, check and consolidate the facts we had into a compelling narrative.
That team spirit, that sense of being in the public eye and shaping public opinion, is heady stuff for those who thrive on adrenaline and strive to understand what makes systems and people tick.
Newspaper connections also give access to public figures we never could approach as private citizens. In the visual arts, my chosen beat as a writer, I interviewed such giants as Robert Rauschenberg, Kenneth Noland, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Morris, Alex Katz and Jenny Holzer.
Life often viewed as a story
The downside is that life often is viewed more as a story than a lived experience. And the greed, corruption and violence that flow with the day's events can make anyone a cynic.
My 40 years at The Eagle spanned the terms of eight presidents and news events that transformed the nation and the Berkshires. The Arab oil embargo, Watergate, the Iran hostage crisis, economic upheavals, misguided urban renewal schemes and the 9/11 attacks have all been documented in this newspaper during my time here.
In 1995, The Eagle became its own news story when the Miller family, pressed with financial problems, sold the company to Denver-based MediaNews Group, a move that took us out of family control and into a corporate culture.
While I chose to settle in the Berkshires with my wife, Stephanie Johnson, a former Transcript reporter, other Eagle colleagues moved on to bigger stages at the Boston Globe, New York Times or Washington Post.
Sadly, our one-time business reporter, Daniel Pearl, was killed by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002 while working for the Wall Street Journal. Joyfully, photographer Craig Walker, who left us in 1998 for the Denver Post, has since won two Pulitzer prizes for photojournalism.
Among the ranks of the retired I'll join are the two men I first worked for at The Eagle in 1973: Frank V. McCarthy in Lee, and William F. Bell in Lenox. Both are now in their 80s.
Bell began writing poetry seriously after his retirement in 1992 and last year won a prestigious literary award that included publication of all of his work done after age 70.
If a second act could happen for him, one may await this old newsman as well.
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