The other day I heard a sound in the newsroom that unlocked a flood of memories.
Someone was using a typewriter - of all things - to write a memo, or was it a photo order? That's no ordinary occurrence in today's newsroom where the soft click-click of computer terminal keyboards is a more familiar sound.There are only a handful of typewriters left, relics of journalism's past.
It was that loud clack-clack-clack I heard that recalled a 40-year career now reaching its final days.
When I joined the Deseret News staff in 1948, the newspaper's offices were on Richards Street, nestled between South Temple and First South west of Main Street. That one-block stretch has since been swallowed up by the Crossroads Mall.
The newsroom was located on the second floor of the Deseret News building at 33 Richards Street. On the third floor above were flatbed presses that fairly shook the building's foundations.
The editorial offices were crammed in the west end of the second floor.
A smallish newsroom housed the city desk, state desk, sports desk, wire desk, copy desk, art department, the managing editor's desk and the editorial page desk. The photo lab was across the hall in another small room.
A year or two after I started, the flatbeds were removed and newsroom operations were shifted to the third floor.
The year 1948 marked the beginning of dramatic expansion of the Deseret News. The staff was increased, circulation areas extended and promotion drives started in an effort to make the paper the dominant publication in the area. A Sunday publication was launched, with enlarged news sections and an ambitious locally edited Sunday magazine.
In those halcyon days, the Deseret News was delivered to homes as far north as Boise, Idaho; as far south as Las Vegas, Nev.; east to Grand Junction, Colo.; and Elko, Nev., to the west.
Bureaus operated in Twin Falls, Pocatello and Idaho Falls, Idaho; and Logan, Ogden, Provo and Price in Utah, sending stories to the central office by teletype. Correspondents ranged the state, and the enlarged local staff reported and edited for seven daily editions at one point.
I remember being tossed in the fire early on, with the responsibility of laying out Sunday sports sections with enough space during football season to devote a page to each major conference across the country.
The Deseret News entered into a production merger with the Salt Lake Tribune in September 1952, and the paper began printing on the Tribune's Regent Street presses. Editorial operations stayed on Richards Street until June 1968, when the Deseret News moved to its present location.
By the time of the merger, circulation had fallen short of the ambitious goals, but the sense of excitement and challenge remained in the newsroom.
Moving copy quickly to Regent Street, two blocks away, was challenging. To speed delivery, someone came up with the idea of putting copy in a breadbasket and lowering it out the window by rope to copy couriers waiting below in the parking lot.
This system was not without its hazards. One editor, who shall remain nameless, once bypassed the breadbasket and tossed a roll of copy out the window, hoping it would land in the hands of the waiting courier. But a gust of wind took control, scattering copy across the parking lot.
The editor stayed, but the breadbasket was replaced by a "state-of-the-art" dumbwaiter.
Couriers either walked copy to Regent Street or drove, dodging traffic to deliver it. A Kaiser and a Volkswagen were worn out in copy service.
One of the toughest days I remember in getting the paper out under those conditions was the day President Kennedy was assassinated.
I was wire editor and had the job of monitoring wire service teletypes situated along a wall near the wire desk.
I had checked the wires a few minutes earlier and was at my desk when photographer Wally Kasteler came rushing out of the photo lab saying he'd just heard on radio that Kennedy had been shot during a motorcade through Dallas. I bounded over to the teletypes to see the first bulletins moving.
With deadline fast approaching, news editor George Ford decided to go with a large-type bulletin and a banner headline. The lead he picked was by UPI's Merriman Smith, who subsequently won the Pulitzer Prize for his first-day reporting.
Reports were at first confusing and fragmentary, but within minutes Smith's account, moving in short "takes" on the wires, made clear the shocking sequence of events. Ford expanded the bulletin, re-leading the story as necessary until he had put together a pagelong bulletin that jumped inside alongside other on-the-scene and reaction stories.
The main story was sent in pieces to the Regent Street composing room, where it was set in type and assembled on the front page. By the end of the day, despite the obstacles of deadline and distance, Deseret News readers had a gripping account of that terrible day in Dallas.
Other events flash through my mind in which reporters, photographers and editors have teamed together - often under difficult circumstances - to give the Deseret News readers fast, accurate and comprehensive coverage.
- The 1959 Yellowstone earthquake.
- The reporting of a 1961 murder at Dead Horse Point that won the Pulitzer Prize for reporter Robert Mullins.
- The Teton Dam disaster in 1976.
- The Gary Gilmore execution in 1977.
- The 1978 International Dunes Hotel tragedy in downtown Salt Lake City in which a mother and her six children plunged to their deaths.
- The shooting death of John Singer in 1979.
And more recently:
- The Mark Hofmann bombings/forgeries.
- Reporting of the midair collision over Kearns, for which the Deseret News won a Sigma Delta Chi award for spot news coverage.
- The Singer/Swapp church bombing and standoff.
In reflecting on those events, I am struck by the unceasing dedication of those reporters and photographers on the scene and editors in the office. It has been an enriching experience to have worked with them in the course of my 40 years at the Deseret News.
It's reassuring to see, that as the old ones go, bright young professionals are filling their places and continuing to make the Deseret News a vital chronicler of events and a positive force in the community.