“How Do I Get the Stuff I Report Out of Here?”

Yesterday’s post “Before the Internet: How did journalists file their stories?” inspired Barnard Law Collier to add these stories about life as an overseas journalist.
Much of my work and time as a correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune and the New York Times in Central, South, and Caribbean America was devoted to one question: How do I get the stuff I report up to the foreign or news editor from the Morse Code and primitive Telex regions of the hemisphere?

Mostly it depended on fostering friendly relations with savvy stewardesses, flight crews, other trustworthy journalists, airport and airlines ground personnel (especially radio guys), and occasional sympathetic traveling strangers.

Like Filip Bondy, most of my stories were written on letter-sized paper with a Carolina blue Olivetti portable typewriter and then put in an open envelope and given to the next Pan Am crew member I could find who was headed for New York. I paid a very generous (then) $25 cash for the service and nobody declined to do the job. Luckily, no messenger and no story ever went astray. They all delivered the letters directly to the editor’s desk.On numerous occasions the receipt of the letter was the first news of the story the editor got.

Stories filed by Telex cost dearly per word and were only as reliable as the Telex operator who punched the story into a tape which was then fed into the Telex network. His palm almost always needed grease or when your deadline approached his office would be empty.

I can’t remember all of the abbreviations and combinations of words that were required to file a story within a reasonable word count. I can recall once being able to get five words into a single acceptable word (it was up to the operator if you over-reached in an unclever way). The guys on the desks who translated the code were masters at it.

Then there were blessed typists at the main office switchboard to whom one dictated either a story already typed, or al fresco from the head. I deeply admired and appreciated these women, who not only put my words on paper but sentence by sentence rather gently advised me if I was being murky or disorganized.

I have a special soft spot in my heart for the women who took my dictation from the one operating telephone at the Woodstock festival. They asked excellent questions, warned me if there weren’t enough persuasive facts, and patiently read the stuff back to me so that I could make changes.

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