Change has always been in the nature of newspapers

September 17, 2005|By JACQUES KELLY

IN 36 YEARS of newspaper work in Baltimore, I've observed many changes. I was 19 when I asked The Evening Sun's managing editor, Phil Heisler, for a summer job in 1969. (You can do the math.) I well recall his office. Its window overlooked Guilford Avenue, the street where I was living at the time, and the street, I might add, I've never quite shook.

My introduction to newspapering said plenty about Baltimore. When I went to see him, Mr. Heisler was reading the racing page of the Sunpapers' competitor, the old News American.

That paper was where I had my second summer job, in 1970. The News American's executive editor, Tom White, told me to come down for an interview one Saturday in April, "before post time." I did.

It was a casual meeting. Tom sat behind a cluttered semi-antique desk (no Danish Modern for the News) in a third-floor office set into a corner, three stories above where Lombard Street meets South Street.

The Saturday morning crew was headed by Wilson "Buck" Auld and Tom Hughes, two newspaper veterans of the "screaming headline" variety. Both later whipped me into shape, even if I didn't always like their denunciations about lame copy. Buck was a classic newspaper bird dog, sniffing for clues, asking questions, never letting up. He could drive you crazy; I am better today for his attentions.

And if I had any doubts or questions about a career, they were answered that day. Sign me up, fast, I thought.

I was hooked on the spot that Saturday morning. The workings of an ancient Hearst paper and its likable characters were seductive. I thought I had walked into a Warner Brothers 61-minute feature film of 1931. Reporters smoked away at green metal desks. Their fingers flew over manual typewriters arranged in a bank known as the city desk. Their stories moved upstairs to a composing room via a flapping leather conveyor belt.

The News American was my home until it folded in 1986. From its windows I watched the Inner Harbor change. The paper was set into an old Baltimore commercial district of banks, law offices, insurance agents, light manufacturing and foreign freight forwarders. It was an urban mercantile setting that later civic renewal campaigns haven't managed to asphyxiate. Today I'm delighted to see the crowds around Power Plant Live and the old streets near the paper's vacant site.

In the old days, newspaper jobs did not turn over much. But once you were in, you stayed because there was no place to have so much fun - and get paid for it.

I still get that jolt of adrenaline watching a daily paper get put together each afternoon.

I still see many of the same news-gathering energies I observed outside Tom White's office door at The News American. The Sun newsroom still has its daily rituals and its familiar sounds - the late afternoon arrival of police reporter Dick Irwin, the voice of night metro editor Dave Ettlin. And as this column moves next Saturday to a berth within the Maryland section, I think back to all those deadlines and all the people who made them possible.

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