N-G's John Beck reflects as 38-year career draws to a close
By John Beck
After nearly four decades of working at The News-Gazette, I'm calling it a career next Friday, and the memories are strong.
The News-Gazette I walked into my first day on the job on May 5, 1975, was a living museum in its waning days of hot metal typesetting and printing the paper on a letterpress.
I recall that we newsroom types sent stories via pneumatic tubes to the composing room where Linotype operators would key in the stories and set type in hot metal. Printers placed the type into metal frames called chases, and after proofing, sent impressions of the pages on to the pressroom. Conditions in the composing room were hot and dirty like a factory floor, and many times fumes from molten lead would make their way into the newsroom.
I picked up a unique skill — the ability to read type upside down and backwards on the chase, which saved time since the printers did not have to pull a proof of the page.
Oh, and that newsroom at 48 Main St. Cleanliness was not one of its virtues. I remember how hot it was in the summer. We had a couple of window air conditioners that would spit water, so people set up umbrellas over their desks. On warm summer nights, we'd open the windows to get some air, and the newsroom would be invaded by small green bugs.
All of that changed when we moved in to our beautiful red granite building at 15 Main in 1983. After our previous digs, it seemed like the Ritz.
It hardly seems possible that I've been here 38 years, the last 15 as executive editor. One thing about the journalism profession is that you are seldom bored. You walk into the office, and the next thing you know, it's past time to go home. And so the days, weeks and years passed by.
Not all the days were good, and it's often been stressful, but I've thoroughly enjoyed it and I feel privileged to have worked at such an organization. As an editor here since 1978, I think I've made some contributions.
I've had a career in which I've seen incredible changes in technology that affect our business, worked with talented journalists, met community members and newsmakers from all walks of life. And, of course, there's the news we covered, for many of those years in print only, then sparingly on our website as well, and now any way you want it — in print, on your computer, tablet or smartphone.
Over the years, we've won many state and national journalism awards. Our sports department has been recognized as one of the best in the country. But awards are not necessarily the best indication of how a newspaper serves its community. Through all the years and all of the changes, I am most proud of the efforts of our staff to provide fair, accurate and credible news and information to the public to the best of our ability.
Above all, I'll remember the people.
I was fortunate to work in my early years with such people as Editor Harold Holmes, T.O. White, Willard Hansen, Annabel Schmelzle and others who had spent their careers at the paper and were nearing retirement.
Most fascinating of all was the paper's owner, Mrs. Marajen Stevick Chinigo. I think most of us young pups were afraid of her back in those days. I remember one discussion with her long ago when I had the temerity to disagree with her. She said to me, "Well, I guess you know more about journalism than I do." Uh, no.
But I came to realize that the freedom we who work at The News-Gazette cherish was the result of her clear vision of the newspaper as an independent voice in the community, not beholden to dictates from some faraway corporate masters. I'm sure that there were many suitors who would have opened their checkbooks to buy the newspaper. The fact that we are now owned by a local foundation for the benefit of the community is her legacy.
I came in with a bunch of young journalists who have spent their careers here as well, including Publisher John Foreman, Jim Dey, Tom Kacich, Paul Wagenbreth and recently retired photographer Robert K. O'Daniell. Loren Tate was already here. Most others on our staff have been here 15 years or longer.
The News-Gazette has always been a place where some journalists have chosen to spend their careers. I won't speak for my colleagues, but I looked at it as an opportunity to work at an excellent community newspaper in a university town with a great quality of life. So I stayed.
Throughout the years I've been here, many other young journalists have gotten their starts at The News-Gazette and have gone on to distinguished careers. We claim them as alumni, just as we do with Roger Ebert. We gave them their starts, after all, and we're proud of what they've accomplished.
I'm looking forward to the next chapter in the long and proud history of The News-Gazette.
The traditional media world has been rocked in the last half-dozen years by the digital revolution and recession, along with many other traditional businesses, and we need to develop new audiences and business opportunities. We're going to need the best efforts of our talented staff, in the newsroom and throughout the company.
Despite the challenges, I'm optimistic and excited about the future of The News-Gazette newsroom under new Executive Editor Jim Rossow. I think you'll see a new energy, imagination, new ways to connect with readers in print and online.
And I know that even with all the new ways we have to deliver news and information, we will retain the traditional journalism values that have made us a resource for so long in the community.
I'm looking forward to seeing how it unfolds.
John Beck is retiring as executive editor of The News-Gazette. Readers may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.