I was watching one of those ''feel good'' commercials on the cable the other night. A school girl is shown sitting at a manual typewriter and the year ''1957'' flashes on the screen followed by the phrase ''Future Editor.''

Now I hate to rain on any ad agency parades, but that just ain't the way things were back in the days before most of the people writing this kind of commercial copy were born. Come to think of it, it's things like that that go to prove a deep-seated belief of mine; ''In the absence of anybody who can remember, people have a tendency to make things up.''

Most of us in this business over the age of 45 or 50 can tell you that there were few, if any, youngsters sitting at typewriters -- for those of you too young to remember the devices just think of a word processor that uses paper (probably another antiquated concept for most of you) without all the circuit boards and screens -- dreaming of growing up to be a newspaper editor. And there were even fewer little girls harboring such dreams. Now I'm willing to concede that there were a few kids who wanted to someday find themselves banging on the keys in a newsroom. But nobody, and I mean nobody ever saw themselves as being an editor.

When I first came into the business back in 1971 -- God I'm getting old -- editors were editors and reporters were reporters and never the twain would meet. Actually, editors in my day weren't even human beings by our way of thinking. Tyrants, and SOBs yes, but human, no. Back then you could tell by the tone in an editor's voice as he yelled your name across a crowded newsroom just how long you had to live. And some days it was wise to say your good-byes as you passed your colleagues' desks, making your way to the editors throne.

Oh yeah, and it was probably a pretty good idea for the married guys taking that last walk to make sure somebody called the wife and let her know where all the important papers -- will, life insurance policies, etc. -- were stashed. But nobody, and I mean nobody, would ever look over at the guy sitting at the next desk and wax eloquent about, ''You know, some day I want to grow up and have his job,'' as he pointed panting toward the city editor's perch.

If somebody asked you what you wanted to be doing five years from now back before all this touchy, feely psycho-babble of the last 10 to 15 years, you'd have never even thought of saying ''I want to be an editor.'' In fact, your first thought probably would have been that you were about to be handed a pink slip.

There is an old newsroom story, probably one of those fourth estate legends of questionable pedigree, told back then about the rookie reporter whose first holiday season in the business was spent as the general assignment gofer on the city desk a few days before Christmas. The grizzled assistant to the assistant city editor throws an unsharpened pencil across the desk to wake the rookie out of his daze. ''Get over to 4th and Elm, rookie,'' yells the guy on the desk. ''Some kid's been killed in a freak accident.'' It seems that a young child had choked to death on a tree ornament with less than a week to go before Santa's arrival. Well, the rookie grabs a notebook and pencil and dons his hat and coat as he punches the elevator button for the bottom floor.

He's back in a couple of hours of heart-wrenching interviews with distraught family and equally emotional emergency personnel and the keys on his Corona are singing like a machine gun in a full-fledged firefight. The rookie finishes banging out about 12 inches of what he believes to be a pretty good story, considering the circumstances and the obvious emotions of the moment. He almost proudly strolls across the newsroom and impales the story on a spike at the edge of the assistant to the assistant's desk. He returns to his desk with a bit of a pleased-with-himself smile starting to break out at the corner of his mouth. Ten minutes later he hears his name called out by the same bully of an editor that sent him on this tale of woe. Thinking that he's about to get some small token of praise from the tyrant who is the only other one in the newsroom besides himself at the time, the rookie strides, with a noticeable confidence, across the room. He's stopped in his tracks by the editor who asks, minus any of the pleasantries, ''What color?'' ''What color, what?'' shoots back the rookie. ''What color was the ornament?'' comes the answer in the form of the same question with just a little more emphasis and information. ''Why, I, I, don't know,'' stumbles the young reporter. ''Call the family and find out,'' is the next unemotional order.

Now that was the image I had of the editing profession as a young reporter the better part of three decades back. And it would have done no good for anybody to tell me the story was simply an unfounded urban legend. Because the scene fit mine and every other reporter's vision of these brutes.

But things have changed markedly since those days of my rookie-ship. In the intervening years I myself have served in various editor capacities, from sports, to city, to managing and executive editor at several newspapers between Indiana and New Mexico. Now, of course I've discovered that editors, besides not being the reincarnation of Attila the Hun, are quite probably some of the best people I know. It's those damn reporters who are ruining this business. ''Hey, Rookie?''

Old newspaper men never die, they simply find themselves writing to hit a new deadline!

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online April 24, 2001

Back to The Zephyr