December 1, 2018Eddie
Following a wandering time – that included stays in such places as Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Missoula, Montana; Seattle, and Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco – I became a newspaper reporter because that was thought to be the way for a writer to begin things. Actually, I wasn’t all that conscious of myself as a writer. I was conscious of myself as a newspaper reporter, which was all I wanted to be.
That paper was the DeKalb Daily Chronicle, and I began working there in the sixties part-time, full-time, and, amazingly enough, occasionally whenever I felt like it. My part-time wage was $1.25 an hour, and my full-time salary was $65.00 a week. There were no benefits beyond my feeling that I had the most wonderful job in the world, although the money was enough to keep me in food, a car, and a small apartment over on Pleasant Street.
A good friend of mine, Paul Rozycki, had been working at the paper as a photographer, and when he found out there was an opening for a darkroom worker he told me about it and then introduced me to the editor, Eddie Raymond. Of course I had no experience with darkrooms, but if I lacked a resume I didn’t lack for enthusiasm, reliability, and a good respect for work, and those things were important to Eddie. Eddie hired me on the spot and it all, as they say, worked out.
Eddie, with his white shirts, white hair, and bow ties, was the quintessential editor. He was thin as a whisker and had a smile that could make a lightbulb look dim, and he had a flip-side scowl, too, that you didn’t really want to see aimed in your direction. Later, when I began writing, I revered him as though he were the great editor Maxwell Perkins. I think Eddie viewed me as a reason not to run out of blue pencils (and he did edit with a blue pencil – whole reams of my greatest purple prose consigned to oblivion).
One time, as I tried not to complain about covering yet another Peanut Day or Rotary luncheon, Eddie told me there were no minor stories, only minor reporters. Eddie was not generally given to spouting pithy little sayings.
In the office next to Eddie’s was Bob Greenaway. I think Bob’s official role was that of publisher. He was definitely managerial and looked more like a banker than a newsman. He was a bit intimidating in his manner, too, at least to the younger staff. He was supportive, however, and never failed to praise good work. Most importantly, throughout the newsroom there was always the feeling that being part of this news business was hugely important, regardless of the major or minor role you might have.
Eventually, as my knowledge of photography grew, I was armed with one of the giant Speed Graphics and sent out on my first assignments. I chatted up and immortalized DeKalb’s socialites for Marcella Aspengren’s Women’s Page (yes, times change, but the marketing mavens ought to take note that that page was read, and not just by the women in town), shot every conceivable kind of high school athletic contest for Curt Beard’s Sports Page (one of the assistant sports editors was a very young Brent Musburger), did the Corn Boil, the airport show, the NIU Homecoming parade (atop the old Post Office at First and Lincoln and leaning perilously against the dome). I wrote feature stories on the old folks at the DeKalb County Farm; did picture spreads on new developments at the DeKalb Public Hospital; and wrote a very sad story on a farm auction. There was also the regular mugging of just about every politician, Rotarian, Kiwanian, Lion, and Elk in the area, along with their Catholic Daughters, Women’s Club, and hospital auxiliary counterparts. My goofiest memory, however, as a photographer, came on the day I was assigned the DeKalb County Bar Association’s Play Day out at the country club.
As the judges and lawyers began filling their plates I sat down at the end of a long picnic table bench, camera in hand. Gradually the far end of the table began to fill with lawyers and judges, many of whom were feeling no pain. Deciding finally that I had enough notables present for the inimitable group shot, I popped a flashbulb into my flash unit, stood up, and realized that my weight at one end of the bench had been supporting a half-dozen barristers at the other end, all of whom teetered as I tottered. They ended up on the ground, while I had either the fear or the professional decency not to take a picture.
The newsrooms I’ve been in in recent years seem much too quiet. We worked back then amidst the clatter of old Royal typewriters that were about as big as a PC monitor, as well as the constant sharp chugging sound of the United Press International teletype machine – the ding of a bell now and then telling you that an important story was coming through, with multiple dings telling you that the end of the world might well be near. Of Palm Pilots, cellphones, and PC’s, we had no clue, but I still remember how proud and how technologically advanced I felt the day Bob Greenaway had a Motorola two-way radio installed in my car. I mean, I was so cool I was hot.
I never knew much about the technical end of producing a newspaper, but once in a while I’d have reason to go out into “the shop” where the presses and the Linotype machines were, usually to take one of my heavily-edited stories out to be set in type. It was noisy out there, as well as fumey: hot lead, oils, and greases. What amazed me most about the process, however, was the sheer physical aspect of my writing – how my words could be transformed by the punch on a Linotype keyboard into heavy metal, from there be converted into something that could be incorporated into a huge machine, and finally reduced to something that could be carried by a twelve-year old kid until it ended up on the kitchen table or in the living room near dad’s chair.
To paraphrase an old saying, the miracle of a free press is not so much that it is done, as that it is done day after day after day.
I’ve often wondered what Eddie would think about how those early lessons of his on getting your facts right enabled me to become an award-winning fiction writer, but I don’t think I’ve ever written anything without feeling him standing somewhere behind me – blue pencil in hand.
G.K. Wuori © 2018
Photoillustration by the author