Woody: Back when newspapers were fun
Tuesday, August 25, 2015 4:45 pm
BY LARRY WOODY
Holy Grantland Rice! A newspaper in a town up north has started conducting yoga workouts for its staffers. It's supposed to help reporters relieve stress.
Or at least that was the way it used to be, when I joined the ranks of the Ink-Stained Wretches a generation ago. Back then it was common for newspapermen to name their first-born "Stress."
If they had twins, the other kid would be named "Anxiety."
I worked with a grizzled old proofreader named "Heartburn." He wore a green visor, chain-smoked Luckies and his hands shook so bad that he could barely hold his red grease editing pencil. He was discovered one night lying face-down on the Copy Desk in a pool of Pepto-Bismol. The coroner ruled it death by deadline.
Back to yogi in the newsroom: I suspected this day was coming. The writing had been on the copy paper ever since the demise of, well, copy paper.
I was working my way through college and was hired to work weekends by Raymond Johnson, a gruff old sports editor at the then Nashville Tennessean. Raymond rode trains, smoked stogies, and filed his copy by Western Union. He was a colorful character right out of "Front Page."
Raymond taught me how to pound out a story on deadline. He also taught me several descriptive verbs and adjectives that we weren't allowed to use in the newspaper.
I never knew Raymond to resort to yoga in times of stress. He opted for a more physical release.
You're tempted to tell him William is up by two, Mary is driving, and hang up.
One Saturday night Raymond was in the office uncommonly late, finishing his Sunday "One Man's Opinion" column. He strolled over to the editing rim to plunk down his copy when the desk phone jangled. Since everybody else was busy at the moment, Raymond made the mistake of answering it.
Pause. Listen. Shrill chatter at the other end of the line. Raymond's face began to flush and redden. He about to blow.
Veins were popping out on his forehead and he was sputtering. He couldn't get a cuss-word in edge-wise.
They don't have glue pots in today's newspapers, because they don't have copy paper to glue together before sending it up to the linotype operator. They don't have linotype operators either. Linotype operators went the way of the dodo bird and the manual typewriter.
But take my word for it: when a glue pot shatters on the floor, you remember it.
Raymond stomped back to his office, sputtering and muttering. He slammed the door behind him, almost jarring an autographed picture of Babe Ruth at Sulpher Dell off the wall. For several minutes we could hear him raging and thrashing around. I'm pretty sure he wasn't practicing yoga.
Newspapers were more fun back then.