-30- Saying So Long to 60-Year Career
By Florence Gilkeson
The romance and the magic are still there but, after 60 years, they're different. My earliest introduction to newspaper work centered about a flatbed press, now a relic of Gutenberg days and rarely found anywhere other than a museum.
When I went to work for The Laurinburg Exchange in 1954, it was the center of excitement. When that old press rumbled into motion, it produced newspapers one by one, and it took about two hours to produce a day's circulation.
The beauty of the old press was simplicity. It applied ink to matrix plates of each page and onto newsprint coughed up by huge rollers. The giant stamp shuttled those pages into a primitive collation system.
Those were tight economic times in Laurinburg. As news editor, I was almost the only full-time news writer at the newspaper. The editor wrote the editorials, a column and occasional news stories. His son, the business manager, covered news stories and supervised news operations, signed and distributed checks, handled business operations, personnel and just about everything that wasn't handled by the press superintendent, his father and me, along with the advertising and circulation people.
It was my job to make sure the front page was OK as soon as it rolled off the press. Once the noisy old thing lumbered into action, I was right there beside the press superintendent. Clyde Trollinger, better known as Trolley, would give the front page a cursory glance, hand it to me, then glare until I gave him the nod. If I nodded, he smiled and gave the pressman another nod. If I didn't nod, the glare continued, but he did stop things until I checked out a problem.
Press day was twice a week then, later three times a week. But every day, when that press roared into action, my heartbeat picked up as I waited to see the fruit of our work.
In those early days the appearance of the newspaper rivaled the sobriety historically ascribed to the stately New York Times, the "old gray lady."
O.L. Moore, the editor- publisher, was a prince of a man but clearly set in his ways. He did not take kindly to change. The same applied to Trolley, who resisted all my efforts to brighten our younger "gray lady."
Yet Trolley was curiously pleased when he produced something attractive that I had cajoled him into creating.
I remember urging him to design a Christmas tree from a montage of holiday photographs, reproduced from hard plastic engravings cut from ancient Fairchild equipment. Trolley fought it all the way but liked the results and rewarded me with a smile, his lips lopsided from the cigarette always perched there. The reward belonged to him, because the process involved delicately trimming the edges of those plastic cuts along fine lines that fit into each other jigsaw puzzle style.
Soon even The Exchange turned to more modern means of printing the newspaper. Gone were the linotype machines in favor of typesetting equipment, forerunner of today's word processors and computer automation.
The linotype fascinated me even more than the press. This equipment transferred the typed word into metal matrices in an open process that could be easily observed. You could watch the linotype in operation and see its insides work. The awkward bulky thing utilized a heating system consisting of an alloy "pig" that melted, then hardened into metal matrices. Letters formed lines, lines became columns, columns became pages.
Young people visiting the newspaper never showed much interest in newsrooms or advertising or circulation. All they wanted to see was the press and hear the noise.
At The Exchange we always wrote a short news article reporting their visit, then made proofs for each child to have as a memento of the visit. If time allowed and Trolley was in a good mood, the linotype operator would transform each child's name into a line of type, a very permanent souvenir.
The flatbed press is long gone. Missing from just about all newspapers today, even some pretty large ones, is a press of any sort. In today's economy and electronic mindset, it makes sense to contract the printing to larger, more sophisticated operations, which not only saves money but also offers greater diversity in a rapidly changing technology.
It may be practical, but the excitement is gone.
My decision to retire - after a series of previous half-hearted tries - does not come because the fun is gone. I still enjoy the news and writing, and can't really envision anything as absorbing and fulfilling as a career in journalism.
However, I'll enter my eighth decade in 2012 and must admit that I can't keep up the pace that chased me into the pressroom back in the 1950s.
When Sam Ragan offered a news writing job at The Pilot in 1978, I was delighted. It was an opportunity to work for a great newspaper with a storied editor.
I envisioned working a few years, at least until my clergyman husband retired. Howard's declining health and other reversals derailed our plans, and I stayed - after his death and well beyond the traditional retirement age.
I have enjoyed working for The Pilot and in Moore County. It took some time to get used to the differences, but then I settled in and adjusted to local eccentricities and the people adjusted to mine.
For one thing, Moore County is unique. Not just its natural beauty, but Moore County hosts one of the most diverse populations anywhere and one of the most alert, articulate and mentally and physically active populations. They keep up with happenings, they vote, they read and write. So much news happens here that our news staff is often strained just to keep up.
The Pilot too is unique. I know of no newspaper that covers as much news, including breaking news, with this degree of professionalism on a regular basis.
Nor will you find a newspaper with the serious attention to editorial writing that The Pilot exhibits, not to mention the broad variety of opinions expressed by columnists and other writers sharing their views with readers.
It has been a privilege to work here at The Pilot beside some of the most talented writers and reporters anywhere, and I shall miss them. I will also miss the people working for and with Moore County, my primary beat most of these years.
One lesson I have learned is that news coverage is nothing by itself. Without advertising, the publisher cannot afford to print the paper. Without circulation people, there is no distribution to our most important element - you, our readers.
My newspaper career began in high school, when the managing editor of the local newspaper, the Washington Daily News (that's Washington, N.C., or the Original Washington on the Pamlico, because the city was founded and named before the bigger one), asked the school newspaper staff to help with proofreading while the regular proofreader was sick. I loved it and was hooked for life. Later I worked summers at the same newspaper.
With graduation and a journalism degree from UNC-Chapel Hill came the job with The Exchange in a small city I had never even heard of. Those newspapers and The Pilot are the extent of my journalism career with a few minor forays into freelance work.
After Sam's death, I was reluctant to remain with The Pilot. I had endured a bad experience with a previous newspaper management change and was wary of a transition to new ownership and management.
Our new publisher, David Woronoff - less than half Sam's age - encouraged me to remain, and I have never regretted my decision to stick it out, especially after adjusting to a new and equally vibrant editor in Steve Bouser.
But I recognize that increasingly, in addition to my age, I am out of step with the times. Not my outlook on the news, understand, but my lack of expertise in the new technology is nudging me out.
Let's face it. I am a dinosaur. At meetings of the Moore County Board of Commissioners, I am the only reporter taking notes with pen and paper. Everyone else is using a laptop or a recording device, or both.
In retirement I hope to enjoy amenities missed during years of working long and odd hours and meeting deadlines. Too many concerts, plays, and movies were missed, along with books and magazines.
Steve suggested that I write my memoirs. I may do that. Nobody will read them, but at least I can get a lot of stuff off my chest. I may even tackle three novels laid aside years ago. I've never wanted to do anything but write.
Moore County and the staff of The Pilot, going back to my old mentor, the late Sam Ragan, will always be in my heart, and I hope to see you from time to time. I love you, and thanks for letting me serve you for the past 33 years.
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