“I had one typewriter for 50 years, but I have bought seven computers in six years. I suppose that’s why Bill Gates is rich and Underwood is out of business.” —Andy Rooney (1919-2011), American radio and television writer



While the newspaper you’re holding in your hands has a familiar look, for those of us behind the pages this week’s edition represents a sizable technological shift many months in the making, with the ambitious dual debut of a new content management system and new graphic design system.

While it’s often said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, evidently you can still teach an old newshound some new tricks, a case in point being this week’s column, my first written with the paper’s new content management system, computer software used to manage the creation and modification of “digital content,” in this case today’s column.

My colleagues over in graphic design, meanwhile, made their own technological leap between issues, transitioning to new publishing and page layout designing software.

For me, the high tech jump from News Edit Pro to My News 360 is but the latest technological leap in a writing career that started 39 years ago scrolling sheets of pastel blue paper into the carriage of The Herald’s newsroom fleet of clanky — and occasionally balky — manual Smith Corona and Underwood typewriters or, if I was exceedingly lucky and living right, a clanky and occasionally balky electric typewriter. The finished copy — an archaic typed, dash thirty dash “—30—” marking the end of the story — was yanked from the typewriter carriage and rushed to the editor, who marked up the story with red penned edits and sent the final copy off to be entered by a typist into the electronic Teletypesetter, which spit out column wide film strips for layout on paste-up boards with hot glue and rubber cement. 

Looking back, my early days in the Fourth Estate banging out stories on manual typewriters seem like they were plucked from the waning retro noir days of Cary Grant using a candlestick phone in the 1940 screwball newspaper comedy “His Girl Friday,” or even George Reeves’ fedora-topped Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent ducking into a phone booth in ABC’s 1952-’58 “Adventures of Superman.”

The rate of change in the newspaper industry has happened at a staggering pace.

Landlines transitioned to iPhones, typewriters were supplanted by computers, 35 millimeter film gave way to digital cameras and memory cards, and fedoras with press passes tucked into silk hat bands gave way to hatless reporters sporting press lanyards.

The front lines of newspapering is now largely done staring at desktop computer screens, making quiet keystrokes on wireless keyboards and sending electronic PDF files at the click of a mouse.

Today offering a modern professional office backdrop of cubicles, desktop computers, carpeting and indirect lighting, newsrooms had a different feel back in the old school days as a veritable feast for the senses.

The earful din of the clickety-clacking metal keys and letter hammers, the mechanical clunk of the lower case-upper case switcheroo, and the musical singsong of the margin bell “bing” and carriage return zip on the typewriters of yore.

The piquant smells of ink infused typewriter ribbons, high inducing jars of rubber cement, hot-off-the-press newsprint still damp with fresh ink, and the distinctive olfactory mélange of hydroquinone, acetic acid, sodium carbonate, phenidone and ammonium thiosulfate familiar to anyone who’s ever spent time in a red lighted photography darkroom.

The eye squinting glow of the internally lit, glass-topped light tables used to design the paste-up layout boards.

The tactile feel of the finger work manipulations of border tape, X-acto knives, aluminum pica pole rules and plastic proportion wheels, now extinct circular slide rules used to figure out the percentage a photograph needed to be enlarged or reduced to fit the allotted layout space.

Today it’s all digital, from entering articles into a content management system to shooting, downloading and manipulating digital photos pulled electronically from camera memory cards and emailed smart phone photos. I haven’t banged out a story on a typewriter since 1987 and I haven’t shot roll film professionally in more than two decades. And while I still doggedly cling to my old school spiral-bound reporter’s notebooks like the curmudgeonly Rooney stuck with his trademark 1913 Underwood No. 5, admittedly more often than not I rely on my handheld digital recorder for the bulk of my reporting work.

As a then 76-year-old Rooney, owner of 17 Underwood #5 typewriters, confessed in “My War,” his 1995 memoir: “I’m reluctant to admit that I’m writing on a Toshiba T3200SX computer . . . I love my Underwoods, but you can carry the good old days too far.”

You can teach an old newshound new tricks.