Times change and so has journalism

From 35mm film and darkrooms to computers and websites

By Treena Mielke Black Press

I sometimes think I have newspaper ink instead of blood running through my veins.

I know there was a time when deadlines and bylines and the published word were not part of my world.

I just can’t remember when.

Although it seems like it was only yesterday, it was, in fact, a very long time ago when I first walked into a newspaper office; a young reporter hopeful.

It was snowing outside. I walked in, pretending to be brave, competent and confident.

I was, of course, none of the above.

I was right to be scared. I had no idea what I was getting into.

I don’t remember much about the interview. I only remember that before I knew it I was given a notebook and a pen (which I kept losing), and told to use my own camera.

I had the job. As a reporter/photographer I was expected to produce “x” number of stories weekly, good news stories, not just fluff, not just words to fill space. I was also expected to roll negatives, take pictures, get names, develop negatives and make prints.

“No problem,” I said to myself in a little self-imposed pep talk. “I’ve got this.”

I launched into my new job with determination and optimism. I would do what they wanted and even more. They would not regret the day they hired me.

A few days into the job a crusty old pressman, whom I later became the best of friends with, told me to relax. He informed me sagely that the main job for reporters is to fill the white space between the ads.

The newspaper office where I went to work was decorated in the style of a bygone era complete with hardwood floors and little green desk lamps strategically placed on wooden newsroom desks. There were three glassed in offices; a larger one for the editor and a smaller one for a reporter and a salesperson.

I was given the smaller one.

Along the back wall was a huge line of light tables.

The dark room was in the back of the building as was a huge camera where the negatives were shot.

It was a different world back then in the ‘90s, a black and white newspaper world, filled with deadlines and meetings and late nights and endless hours in the darkroom. It was a world to which computers were the new kids on the block; new kids that reporters were supposed to make best friends with.

When I allow my mind to do a fast rewind of the past I glimpse only images, only moments.

One such image is of a much younger me bent over a light table struggling with an Exacto knife to get the column edges of newspaper print straight. Another image is of me in the darkroom, absolutely horrified as I stared at a roll of blank negatives.

Apparently, I had processed them wrong. I certainly found out who my friends were that night when I used them to pose for me as I struggled to recreate photo ops and still meet my deadline.

To celebrate meeting our weekly deadline, we would all order Kentucky Fried Chicken, topped off with chocolate sundaes. I always ordered a Diet Coke as well, which seemed to make some sort of weird sense to me.

And now looking back, I realize that I don’t really miss the light tables and the dark room, but, oh, I miss the people I worked, laughed and ate Kentucky Fried Chicken with. They were the stories between the black and white lines of the newspaper, the rich and colourful tapestry that made the industry what it was.

I miss those guys.

And though it was long ago and it was far away, I remember them still.

Treena Mielke is the editor of The Rimbey Review and writes a regular column for Black Press Prairie Division.

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