Chap 6: “Pressing Ahead”

 This is the second of three narratives covering my experiences at the Pontiac Press, renamed Oakland Press during that period.

When I arrived at the Press, an example of new technology invading the newspaper business was evident in the wire room.

The teletype machines not only churned out seemingly endless rolls of paper full of news, they also spat out inch-wide colored paper tape perforated with patterns of tiny holes which represented letters and words.

Back in the composing room, rolls of this tape, each held together with a clothespin, would arrive and be distributed to linotype machines, each of which had a device that would turn the tape into the type made of lead. The linotype operator meanwhile would sit waiting for these machinations to come to their conclusion.

Then, the type thus produced would go to a compositor who would use it in assembling a page.

A large roll of tape would mean a long story; a small roll a brief story. One wire editor had demonstrated — rather facetiously I hope — how he gauged a brief story by grabbing some tape and stretching out two arm lengths: “There’s your brief,” he said.

The tiny holes in the tape produced a “chad,” not unlike the kind that would be a factor in the Florida election controversy some decades later. We never encountered any “hanging chad” as did Florida’s ballot counters. Ours was collected by a machine that produced the tape and which advised us on occasion “empty chad box.”

Over on the copy desk, we did not yet use any new technology. Rather, we passed paste pots back and forth, shared scissors, and hammered away on geriatric typewriters, using paper which was newsprint cut to size.

The seven of us on the rim ranged in age from late twenties to late thirties.

A bit younger, was the slot man, Don Braunagel, a Michigan State grad like myself. Don had loads of talent, along with the unusual ability to fall asleep in the slot during slow moments in the work shift.

The onrush of technology suddenly overtook us in the early 1970s when, one day, we were presented with brand new IBM Selectric typewriters and “non-scan blue” pens.  What was to come might well have made Rube Goldberg envious.

Gone was copy paper adapted from newsprint; the local copy we’d edit would be written on Selectric typewrites and on computer-friendly white stock. The copy would be double-spaced to allow us to type in our editing changes in the space above the original word or words.

First though, we’d use a non-scan pen to indicate those changes. Then we’d type in the changes, each preceded by a forward slash and followed by, again, a forward slash.

Finally, we’d send the copy up a pneumatic tube to the composing room where a machine friendly to the IBM Selectric type font would turn the words and numbers into lead ready for assembly into a page.

Give this trend a few more years and the composing room of that day would not be recognizable. One of another kind would take its place to accommodate a “cold type” operation. The old “hot type” (lead) process would be gone, and with it, many skilled people, unless they adapted to the new methods.

Proofreaders had long been absent from the newspaper scene. Copy editors had taken over that responsibility.

Pontiac was the home of the Pontiac State Hospital, a large mental institution. Occasionally some of the lesser-afflicted patients there would have a field trip which included a tour of the Press news room. Remember; we were still using scissors in our work.

When a group from the state hospital arrived on a tour, word would circulate on the rim to be sure and get all scissors out of sight, lest one of the patients take a notion to grab a pair and attempt some sort of bodily harm.

Fortunately, these facetious fears always proved unfounded.

One day not long after I arrived at the Press, I found out it was looking for a reporter. I recommended Ralph Kingzett, gregarious, ambitious and of Hungarian descent who had done good work for me at the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. Ralph was interviewed and hired.

I was to find out later that this set off a tantrum by Otto Schoephle, the publisher back in Elyria, who accused me of stealing Kingzett.

The true depth of Otto’s anger surfaced when I returned for a friendly visit to my old paper. I had not been in the C-T’s newsroom two minutes before Bob Barton the editor, spotted me and yelled, “You! Ketchum! You aren’t supposed to be in the building. Otto doesn’t want you here!”

I certainly didn’t flee right away, but didn’t tarry too long.

Our Press newsroom was tightly knit and occasionally some of us would plan an outing together. On one of these, eight of us carpooled down to a Detroit Tigers night game. The trip to the stadium was preceded by a stop at Kingzett’s house for ample samples of his homemade dandelion and rhubarb wines.

The Tigers were doing pretty well that season, and we had good seats in the second deck right behind home plate. Lubricated with homemade wine, it didn’t take much beer to elevate our revelry.

Tiger successes in the game triggered celebrations in which a container – or containers  — not yet empty of beer, might be thrown against the screen back of home plate. Some of the resulting spray found its way down to the lower deck, to the consternation of fans there.

A few moments would go by before stadium personnel came up to investigate. Questioned, we innocently pointed to those in seats behind us.

In the parking lot following the game, Bill Monahan had difficulty finding the car in which he had arrived.  His solution was to prance along the hoods of cars until he got help from a couple of us.

When not wire editor, I was one of seven copy editors, or occasionally the slot man on a universal desk. If I subbed for Stroud, I was eligible for higher hourly pay, and the Guild, very sensitive to such situations, filed a grievance regarding my working regularly for an hour or so in Stroud’s stead at the beginning of a shift.

Press management refused to give in on the grievance, which prompted the Guild to throw the significant weight of the Detroit local into arbitration on the matter. The heavyweight on our side was Bruce Miller the Detroit local’s attorney, a slender dark-haired thirty-something guy who didn’t present like the legal heavy-hitter he’d already become.

After two days of testimony, the two sides’ attorneys traded final words.

Miller, in finishing, fired a “walk-off” verbal home run over the left field wall, so to speak, at management’s attorney, leaving that legal lightweight speechless. Thus the arbitration came to an end.

A couple weeks later the verdict arrived in the Guild’s favor, and I was paid on a higher scale for the time worked in Stroud’s classification.

Miller, in his eighties as this is written, is still practicing law and has become prominent in Michigan and on the National Democratic Party scene.

In 1968, barely more than a year after I arrived in Pontiac, Capital Cities Communications, a television and radio conglomerate, made its first foray into the newspaper business by purchasing the Press from the Fitzgeralds.

It wasn’t long before the Pontiac Press was renamed the Oakland Press.

Cap Cities, as it was known, selected as its first publisher, Phillip Meek, an Ohio Wesleyan graduate who had gained a reputation as a financial whiz at Ford Motor Company. The new management kept Harry Reed, University of Michigan grad and a capable and easy-going news executive, as editor.

Meek, possibly to get off on the right foot with the Press’s various unions, decided in his first holiday season at the paper to throw a Christmas party.

And Oh! What a party!

It was held at Meadowbrook Hall, 80,000 square feet of Tudor revival grandeur in an extensive sylvan setting just east of the Pontiac city limits. An impressive array of food and beverages befitting the venue was included.

Behavior of all the partygoers not always was.

There was a report of someone from the back shop spilling something on Meek’s wife, and not necessarily accidentally. It was not difficult to detect signs of inebriation, and as dawn rose, some partygoers reportedly still were wandering the parking lot.

No more parties thrown by Meek during his tenure as publisher.

Meek and Reed occasionally would pick a nice restaurant and possible additions to the staff. As the story goes, when they met one day for lunch, discussing a particular candidate, Meek asked Reed what he thought of the potential employee they were discussing.

Reed allowed as how he thought he had very good qualifications.

And Meek replied, “I do, too. For your job.”





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