Changes in newspaper industry quite apparent

Changes in newspaper industry quite apparent

By Eric Becker

For the Write Team

CARLINVILLE (July 19, 2018) – As I sit here typing this piece I am reminded of the number of changes that have rocked the newspaper industry in the last 23 years.

I’ve been writing stories, taking photographs and doing page layout for various publications off and on since June 1, 1995.

There was a stretch of six years where I was not involved in newspapers, and part of that stretch was the start of the social media phenomenon.

My very humbled beginnings in this business started in 1995 in a small southeastern Illinois town of Albion. Home of Edwards County High School and Pork Day, USA. Porkburgers were the best.

I lived in a 100-year-old apartment building with rent being $175 a month. Little did I know how cheap that was at the time.

The first week I was asked to do page layout for Page 3, basically a features page. All the mistakes of putting together a page, like bumping headlines and other distinctive errors, I made, especially early.

As that summer progressed, I slowly began to get the hang of page design, and it grew to be my most favorite aspect of the newspaper business.

When I started in this business, there was no digital photography. Everything had to be done in the darkroom.

The smell of the chemicals sometimes got to me, and it was more of a nuisance than anything, but having that college photography class really came in handy. It also helped we had a photography lady who came in and made the prints for us each week. That in itself, was a blessing.

Back in the mid-1990s, e-mail had just begun to become a popular form of communication. In fact, I never had e-mail or the Internet at my first job in Albion. We got our press releases from the fax machine almost 90 percent of the time. Then we had to retype them.

So, how do you get the pages to the press? The press plant was located in Olney, some 30 minutes north of Albion.

Each week, we would print out the page and then paste the pages onto another broadsheet style paper. Once all the pages were completed, we packed them in a bag and drove the pages to Albion.

The other reporter and I would alternate weeks taking the paper to get printed. We just waited there, unsure of what time it would be printed. It was usually a couple of hours.

I would hang out at the city park and grab lunch at one of the establishments. To this day I can recall a Burger King Whopper meal with fries and a drink costing just a bit over $3. It has more than doubled in price over the next 23 years.

Back in the day, there was so much more to a reporter’s job. I had to stuff the paper with inserts, and eventually had to learn how to fill out paperwork for the mail delivery and deliver the papers to the post office. Also, I went around the county taking papers to various stores, like the convenience and grocery stores, and collecting money from the past week’s sales.

For that year and a half in Albion, I never slept or showered on Tuesday nights. We worked our bleeps off to get the paper to press on Wednesday mornings. A couple of times I did all-nighters. Talk about being tired on Wednesday evening once the papers had been delivered to the post office. One time I ended up a bit delusional due to lack of sleep, which was scary.

As I progressed to bigger papers, the staff was bigger and the job load was made a lot less stressful. I was able to concentrate more on reporting, photography and page layout.

I do not do the page layout at this current publication, but I have gradually learned how to take sports photos to where it’s not embarrassing. FYI, daytime high school football rules the roost! I am not a fan of trying to shoot football at night. But I try.

Today, everything is done electronically. Pages are sent to Virden via e-mail. Photography is all digitalized. Websites, Facebook and Twitter have become the face of news reporting.

While I am grateful for the upgrade in technology, part of me misses the early days of my career. Changes are inevitable in any profession, but newspapers have seen more changes than just about any of them out there.

There’s a fear that the day of the printed version of the newspaper will fade into oblivion. Social media and paper websites is the future, no doubt.

It’s sad, because, it’s a great industry. I’ve made a decent living doing this at various towns. Covering high school sports and school events certainly would be what I have enjoyed the most over the years. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.