Break In Newspapering
September 28, 1999
The Scoop On A Young Man's
Break In Newspapering
By Stephen Mazurka
Although he was from Manchester where he stayed except for one day a week when he came to visit, the rest of the operation was local. To be the local press was to be in the spotlight, not a link in a chain. You belonged to the community and whenever you hit the keys of the typewriter you felt you were communicating intimately with the people of the town.
People were honored to get their names in the paper; a picture, that was fame.
This was, of course, before Watergate, before students flocked in droves to college journalism programs in hopes of making a difference in a glamorous career, before the private lives of the prominent were public knowledge, before the only criteria for publication was that something be a fact.
People complain about today’s mercenary, nothing sacred, tabloid-style journalism. Back then they complained that information easily available on the street corner, in some cases what everybody was talking about, was never in the newspaper. There were unwritten community standards, expressed as the responsibility of the family newspaper.
The local aspect was beginning to break down. We had moved to Seabrook for a better rent and Norm was somewhat of an absentee owner. This progression was tied to the technological revolution that had taken place in newspapers: offset printing. A newspaper no longer had to be a printing plant in need of a stable environment for heavy equipment such as linotype machines and a foundry for melting hot lead, and experienced printers to make up the forms that were locked into the press that actually pressed paper to inked lead.
Offset is a photographic process. A typist created camera ready copy using film that was processed through a developer, which in turn was re-photographed via an electromechanical transfer to a thin metal plate that went into the press. The new process was faster, neater, easier — maybe cheaper — but not better. The crispness of inked lead to paper was not duplicated. By contrast, offset is an apt description for the process, a bit blurry.
Eventually, the typists went the way of the printers, then most of the editors who once wielded the blue pencils. No one got to say, "Get me rewrite, sweet- heart," anymore. There was no rewrite.
There are more names some will remember from those days, Including my trusty photographer, Arthur Knowles; my ace full-time reporter, Carolyn D’Entremont; my mentor, Melody Dahl; and my harshest critic, Louisa Woodman, the Portsmouth Herald’s local link to the Hampton community at the time. I can’t remember the names of our nine correspondents, most of whom submitted hand-written copy.
I must confess that when Norm walked into my office on the second floor of the old house we rented in Seabrook on Route 1 at the corner of where you turn to go to the dog track and asked me if I knew Melody Dahl, I responded that if he would hum a few bars I’d see If I could pick up on it.
Bless them all wherever they may be for they were all part of the adventure for a young man who at the time thought newspapering was all he would ever want to do in a working life. There was no reporting to Norm. His weekly visit was full of talk about what they were saying up and down the coast. "They" were the advertisers.
There were triumphs. My biggest scoop, I could say worldwide exclusive, was the coming of Odyssey House, the drug rehabilitation program, branching out from New York City into the old Whittier Hotel on Winnacunnet Road. It was a big story for a much smaller town at that time.
Drugs was a hot issue. We sponsored a poll of students in the schools asking them if they used drugs and found out what should have been obvious. Kids love to have fun with polls. I interviewed a marijuana user and published his experience and feelings and we were flooded with anonymous letters accusing us of making it up. It was not like that, they said.
It was an opportunity for a young man with ideals and some naivete to shoot his bolt quickly. Later, Melody would say I was too nice to be a newsperson, a remark I’ve grown to appreciate.