Old-time newsrooms really were as atmospheric as they’ve been portrayed in TV shows and movies, the characters as unusual as fiction. The Rocky Mountain News’s imminent death got me thinking about the news biz in the late-1970′s/early-1980′s heyday of the American metropolitan daily.
One summer, I was hired to cover the night police beat at the Rocky, tasked with covering whatever crimes and tragedies occurred between 4 p.m. and midnight. It was an awesome job.
A college student, I had turned down a fairly prestigious internship at an (now deeply troubled) East Coast newspaper to work at the Rocky. I rationalized this decision – baffling to my parents and classmates – by saying Denver was proffering a “real” job rather than a make-work internship.
In my heart I knew I was more comfortable at a work-a-day paper than a preppy bastion.
I learned a lot that summer, including this practical lesson: Work as many nights, weekends and holidays as you can because there’s a better chance of getting your stories on Page One when the seasoned star reporters are off duty.
The newsrooms of nearly 30 years ago – I gasp to think so much time has passed – were grimy, noisy, ugly, smoky, cluttered places. There were none of the upholstered cubicle partitions that have turned contemporary newsrooms into genteel mazes. Gravel-voiced men flicked cigarette ashes on desktops. The police scanner burbled twangy police jargon. Taciturn editors grabbed ringing phones and barked, “City Desk!” into the receiver.
It was really like that.
At the Rocky, twinkle-eyed columnist and local celebrity Gene Amole made it plain that he was available to hold the hands (metaphorically speaking) of any and all newbies. May he rest in peace.
The late Al Nakkula, after whom a crime reporting award has been named, dashed around Denver gathering newsy tidbits and phoning them in to his editors.
In those days, college degrees weren’t de rigeur.
My parents were appalled by my career choice; the daughter of European-born intellectuals with advanced degrees, I was supposed to follow in their footsteps. It was a Rocky editor who helped me make the case for journalism. Invited to dinner, Charles Carter wowed my parents with his blend of earthy newshound and refined intellectual.
Now, the Rocky is folding and many established names in the news industry are closing down. The optimists are right: we’re in transition. The business is emerging as something nimble and electronic. You’re reading this because my world is electronic, has been for about a decade.
But something has been lost. I’ll try to preserve its memory by making sure the newsrooms I inhabit – hopefully for many years to come – preserve some of the raucousness of old.