When Laura McGee was majoring in German literature in North Carolina, she had no idea that she'd soon be juggling page makeup on deadline at the Deseret News.
McGee, who joined the paper in October 1986 as a member of its original pagination team, thrives when thrust in the middle of things. She learned German by spending her senior year of high school as an exchange student in West Berlin. And with little journalism background she's become an expert at page makeup and the paper's newfangled pagination system, which uses a computer and screen to put together entire news pages pictures, text and all.McGee grew up in Nashville, Tenn. Bored with high school, she eagerly took the opportunity to become an exchange student with Youth for Understanding, though she then spoke no German.
While she was in Germany her parents moved to Utah. Her father had been recruited as head of the University of Utah's infectious disease department.
"They called me up and asked, `What do you think about moving to Utah?' " said McGee. "It was funny. I didn't know anything about Utah." Some of her German friends told her about the Great Salt Lake, while others were of the opinion that there was no lake in Utah, only desert.
In the summer of 1982 she came "home" to Utah. She attended Davidson College in North Carolina, worked summers at Salt Lake City's Jewish Community Center and spent another year in Germany as a college junior.
"By the time I came back from Germany the first time, I spoke almost fluent German, so I had a head start on a German major," she said. "That kind of language fluency is something you can't attain any other way."
She graduated from college in 1986 and, after a final summer at the community center, started job hunting. She wound up at the Deseret News.
In pagination, a whole newspaper page is put together on a computer screen. In the dimly lit pagination room, McGee and her fellow paginators each work with two computer screens (one the large pagination screen, the second an Atex screen similar to the ones reporters write stories on). "I have two screens, two keyboards, a menu and a mouse."
She also rotates to the city, wire and sports desks, where editors feed instructions and stories to her as she designs the pages, creating a sort of blueprint or map, designating where stories and pictures go and what sizes and kinds of headlines they'll have.
"When I was in college I never dreamed I'd be in journalism, but it's worked out really well.
"I really like working right in the middle of things, being in the middle of the newsroom and seeing things happen." A memorable news day, she said, was the church bombing in Marion, Summit County, when reporter Douglas D. Palmer was talking on the phone with Vickie Singer.
"We always try to make an appealing package of B-1, make the most of the main art and put things together so people want to read it."
Even many editors have only a vague idea of how pagination works. "People come in to watch us and they don't have the foggiest what's going on on the screen. Everything moves so fast it's hard to follow. A lot of times we're really in a rush trying to move things as fast as we can, because ours is the last deadline before the page is turned over to the backshop," where advertisements are added to the pages, which are then sent on to be prepared for the presses.
McGee has also written a couple of stories that have appeared in the Deseret News. One told of her experiences as an exchange student. The other was a Thanksgiving Day story on exchange students in Utah.
In her spare time McGee enjoys creating wheel-thrown pottery, skiing (she was on crutches for a while last year after tearing a knee ligament) and knitting. She also serves as an area representative for Youth for Understanding a liaison for American students going abroad and foreign students in Utah and takes graduate level German courses at the U. to keep up her German.
What does the future hold? She'd like to go back to graduate school eventually, perhaps combining her journalism and foreign language skills, and would also like to do more writing.
One thing is certain she'll probably be right in the middle of things, and enjoying every minute of it.