A brief moment of newsroom nostalgia

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. I was talking to a colleague recently who mentioned the days of “pots of Gloy“and suddenly, for the first time in years, I recalled watching newspapers being literally pasted together, while trying to avoid being walked into by men wielding scalpels.


Then I rediscovered a link Adrian McEwen sent me some time ago to the All On Paper experiment, where pre-computer technology was being used to produce a student newspaper.


And when I stopped to consider those two separate occurances – a conversation about how things were, and a student experiment of recreating the old, while learning the new – I realised any argument about people’s inability to adapt to a shifting newsroom culture collapses to nothing.


Writing a story used to involve a typewriter and carbon paper. It evolved into an boxy word processor (possibly resembling this):

Subbing a story used to involve physically cutting up hard copy and shifting paragraphs around, or inserting new ones (hence the pots of Gloy).
I did barely any page design, and was a true roving hack, but even I had a protractor.
Now, we’re designing data visualisations that allow readers to interact, to take the data and reuse, and (if we’re wise) to share our creations on their own publishing platforms.
Truly, the past is another country.


The days of people lighting a cigarette with one hand while taking a shorthand note, with the phone cradled somewhere between shoulder and ear, are gone. 
The passage of typewriters means the noise has gone too. 
Sometimes, when people are working flat out, the only real sound is of muted phone rings and the air conditioning. When the presses moved out of the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo, the familiar rumble and shake from the bowels of the building ended forever, and another soundtrack to the industry was lost.


But media goes on. People keep making news, journalists keep reporting it, albeit in smaller numbers, and with vastly different tools. 
No old stager of a hack would leave the office without their mobile phone now any more than they  would their notebook – a small adaption but a significant one. My phone is an indispensable tool, just like the internet.


A co-worker once warned me not to try and change X, because X had done it that way forever and wouldn’t change. Frankly, I can’t imagine many more insulting things to say about a colleague – especially a journalist. We change all the time, sometimes through choice, sometimes through circumstances; when we say someone else can’t change, we’re projecting our own fears and obstinacy on to them – quite wrongly in most instances, I’d imagine.
I enjoyed my little moment of newspaper nostalgia, courtesy of Gloy, but I couldn’t imagine going back to making news like that.



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About Alison Gow

I'm a journalist, particularly interested in story-telling, networks and digital innovation.
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