Looking Back at 60 Years in Newspapers: The Days of Manual Typewriters, Hot Type, and Youngsters Delivering Newspapers

From a column by D.G. Schumacher in The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, headlined “60 years of newspaper journalism and unimagined changes in the industry”:

When I started my first full-time reporting job in Carbondale, Illinois, 60 years ago, I was as full of journalistic zeal as a 22-year-old could be. Even so, I never imagined being a newspaperman for this long.

We made notes in a “Reporter’s Notebook” or folded pieces of copy, wrote news articles on manual typewriters. In the Southern Illinoisan building, reporters and editors were jammed into the same space where printers retyped our edited copy to create perforated tape for the typesetting machines.

The typesetting machines were mechanical marvels that produced lines of hot lead from which newspapers were printed on presses. I knew about Linotypes and printing presses from working in the back shop of the twice weekly newspaper and commercial printing business my dad was part of for more than 50 years.

Mom also had worked at the newspaper in Pana, Illinois, before I arrived, helping oversee the delivery force. Youngsters in every place delivered newspapers.

Manual typewriters, metal type, youngsters delivering newspapers – all not known in today’s newspapers where the emphasis of necessity is on digital. Someday, I realize with more than a little sadness, folks won’t have a printed newspaper to read with their morning coffee.

In 1961, every town of any size had a weekly newspaper. Bigger cities like Charleston and Charlotte, N.C., had morning and afternoon daily papers, sometimes by competing businesses.

From the smallest weeklies to the largest dailies, newspapers had their own printing presses, in the same building where the news was written and edited. Later, new printing centers were away from the main newspaper building, but no one imagined daily newspapers such as The Sun News printed miles away.

My second summer job (1962) was in Chicago at The Associated Press. The city had four major dailies, including The Tribune and Sun-Times published in the morning, The Daily News and American afternoons. They had multiple editions, all checked by editors at the AP….

The AP summer job led to a job offer after graduation from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. After the AP, I earned a master’s at Northwestern University, and returned to the Southern Illinoisan, then other Illinois dailies in Champaign-Urbana, Alton, Waukegan and Arlington Heights.

The Champaign-Urbana Courier was in an unusual market, in head-on competition, seven days a week, with the locally owned News-Gazette. The Courier was owned by Lindsay-Schaub Newspapers of Decatur. In addition there was the Daily Illini, the student newspaper of the University of Illinois.

The two newspapers battled for every news article, every inch or line of advertising, every subscriber….

Lindsay-Schaub sold in 1979 and The Courier closed. The building on Race Street in downtown Urbana became the Courier Café. The place had ghosts for me, and it was a few years before I went there with a former newspaper colleague.

The second-floor newsroom overlooked the neon sign of the Rose Bowl tavern across the street. It was handy for a beer on Saturday night, if there was time for that in the crunch of producing the Sunday paper.

Our copy went to the composing room by pneumatic tubes, like we use at banks….

About the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, The Sun News customer service and news operations moved to the bank building at 38th Avenue North and Grissom Parkway. That’s another thing no newspaper person would have imaged – a newsroom in a bank building.

As I cleaned out my desk in the Frontage Road building, I recalled more than a dozen newsrooms….

22 Years Later

After we moved to Myrtle Beach and had our condo set up, Rita said I better find something to do – away from the condo. The Sun News needed part-time copy editing help and the managing editor asked how many hours I wanted to work and when could I start. I was thinking I’d work part-time a few years, and here it is 22 years later.

The news department had so many reporters, photographers and editors that for a time I and another new employee shared a desk.

The Courier bid goodbye to Champaign-Urbana more than 40 years ago, the Waukegan newspaper building was demolished for a green space, the Alton Telegraph presses gone and the building abandoned and The Telegraph printed in another city.

Something important that hasn’t changed: the journalistic dedication of today’s reporters and editors. They work hard to keep The Sun News and other newspapers relevant in troubling times that surely need strong journalism.

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