SALT LAKE CITY — I took a stroll through the old ‘hood last week.
Man, have things changed.
Then: typewriters clattering, people running around yelling “copy!,” editors not smiling, photographers packing around camera lenses the size of the Mount Palomar telescope, sports writers wearing free stuff, pressmen in green eyeshades with grime under their fingernails wearing dirty dungarees — back when we really were ink-stained wretches.
Now: mobs of college students carrying around laptop computers in backpacks, wearing hoodies with slogans that say “Neumont.University” and “My code makes your life easier” and “Someday you’ll work for me” printed on the front.
The old Tribune Building, in case you haven’t walked along Main Street lately, is the new home of Neumont University, a computer science college.
Yes, what was once the bastion of Salt Lake City print journalism — a historic edifice that proudly housed the Salt Lake Tribune for some 70 years — is now occupied by the very invention that is bringing about print journalism’s demise.
The amazing part about the transformation is how complete it is. Were it not for the plaque out front, recognizing the building for what it once was, you’d never know what used to go on inside.
I never worked in the Tribune Building, per se, but I walked through it plenty of times. Back in the day, the Deseret News was housed through the block on Regent Street in a building that connected to the Trib Building so the printing presses that both papers shared could be equally accessed. Salt Lake’s two daily newspapers were joined at the hip, so to speak.
The junction where the buildings met, the demilitarized zone as it were, was a lunch room run by the inimitable Ellen Marshall, an African-American woman from Louisville who everyone on both papers loved and claimed as his own and who every April would return “back home” to the Kentucky Derby and personally take your wagers to the Churchill Downs betting window.
Despite being fierce competitors, we rival journalists got along famously in the close quarters, due to our easy-going, non-confrontational, turn-the-other-cheek nature — and also to the fact that the Trib was a morning paper so that staff worked at night and the News was an evening paper so the staff worked in the morning.
Every morning, after deadline at 8 a.m., the D-News sports writers would walk through the Trib Building because it was the quickest way to Main Street for morning coffee at the Pine Cone or Lamb’s.
These days, the Deseret News building is long gone, along with the adjoining subterranean building that once housed the presses — both demolished to make way for construction of the Performing Arts Center.
Meanwhile, the Trib Building has become the quickest way to get a job designing web pages, or developing gaming software, or managing technology.
It is campus central for all things techno. In other words, as the Neumont U. recruiting pitch puts it: Geek Heaven.
You can major in anything you like at Neumont, as long as it’s related to a computer.
The school doesn’t have a football team, a theater department or cheerleaders, but it does boast that 97 percent of its graduates are employed within six months of graduation, and not at a 7-Eleven. In the class of 2013, 88 percent had landed a job in their chosen field before they graduated.
The school has an enrollment of 400. Nine out of every 10 students is a male. The curriculum is set up on a year-round system, with students projected to graduate in three years (or just long enough for the next iPhone to be announced).
More than 80 percent of the students are from out-of-state. Most students live on-campus, either at two nearby school-sponsored apartment complexes or on floors 5-through-11 of the Trib building itself, all of which have been transformed into dorm rooms.
When I walked in the door, I signed in at the front desk — in an area where the NAC used to sell classified ads — and was escorted through the building by Krista Smith, a pleasant member of the marketing staff who said she majored, appropriately enough, in journalism at Westminster College.
As we walked through the building, I told Krista about its/my past and she managed to smile and look interested.
“Well. They’re not writing news here anymore, but they are writing code,” she said hopefully.
We walked to the point where 25 years ago we’d have stepped into Deseret News territory. Now it’s a dead end, with signs on the wall that say, “Danger. Do Not Enter. Construction.”
I could find only one small flight of stairs still with the same linoleum as the old days. Everything else has been renovated to accommodate people with laptops.
I stopped at one of the comfortable study stations and took a picture of five first-years all pecking away feverishly at their computers.
“Studying hard,” I observed.
Nah, they said. It was their lunch break. They were playing games.
I asked if I could take their picture. They said sure. I whipped out my iPhone, took the picture, and sent it off in an email.
I couldn’t even begin to imagine what the late great Claudell Johnson, the first photographer I met at the D-News, would have to say about that.
Before I left, I asked Krista if she’d take me to the fourth floor so I could see what the old Tribune newsroom looks like now.
We got off the elevator and a receptionist welcomed us in. The floor houses Neumont University’s management staff, including the public relations and marketing people.
In the general vicinity where the Tribune editors once sat, there was a sign on the office door that said, “Do Not Disturb. Geek at Work.”
The more things change ...
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. Email: [email protected]