OKAY, let's see if I can get away with this for a 27th...


August 31, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

OKAY, let's see if I can get away with this for a 27th year. think I can. As of yesterday I had fooled everybody for 26.

That's a long time in newspapering. It's probably a long time in everything else, too, these days, but especially in newspapering.

When I reported for work here on August 30, 1965, the tools of my trade were almost exactly what they had been in the 19th century.

The typewriter as we know it was more or less developed by 1874, the Linotype machine by 1884, cheap wood-pulp paper by 1867; and mass-produced lead pencils were around even earlier.

I haven't relied on any of that in a decade. In the last 10 years we've gone through two -- or is it three? -- generations of computers. These have taken the place of proofreaders, copyreaders and Linotype operators. Now they're doing librarians' work. Someday they'll replace printers. They've already replaced some.

You won't believe this (maybe you will), but, Gold help us, the damned things can even write editorials! Not good ones, yet, but, then, a lot of editorial writers can't write good ones yet, either.

I regard this as a dismaying development. Why? Because flesh and blood editorial writers can change their minds -- and their bosses' minds. Computers can't do those things, I don't think (despite Hal's taking over from his bosses in the movie "2001"). Editorial writers who do argue up don't always win. But in 26 years I've seen editorial writers and editorial page editors win a number of arguments on important issues here.

There have been enormous changes in Baltimore in the past 26 years. Harborplace is the most remarked upon, but the spreading slums in the city limits and the skyscrapers and big malls and rapidly growing residential neighborhoods far beyond the city limits are the most important.

This has had an impact on newspapering. Think of population change here this way: Since 1965 the equivalent of all of Roland Park, Homeland and Highlandtown picked up and moved north, east, south and west to Baltimore, Harford, Carroll, Howard and Anne Arundel counties.

Those refugees began to care less about city affairs and more about their county governments and other close-to-home activities. How do you put out one newspaper that satisfies a diverse population's needs for foreign, national, state and local news? There are literally scores of people in this building meeting on a regular basis trying to figure that one out.

Looking back over the years' accumulations of editorials and, especially, columns like these is a humbling experience. They are so topical and evanescent. Re-reading them always helps me understand a comment readers often make to my face. "I don't remember what your column was about the other day, but I enjoyed it."

If you want to make my day in Year 27, keep it up, even when you do remember and didn't enjoy it. In fact, especially then.

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