Column: From hot lead to hyperlinks

Arrival of two young reporters is helping smooth the transition into the digital age

There are a couple of fresh new faces in the newsroom these days.

And thank goodness for that.

It’s not that the rest of us are in our dotage — far from it, thank you very much.

But among the three veterans who remain here, we represent a collective 48 years of newspaper experience.

By sheer coincidence, it’s the same number you get when you add up the two newbies’ total number of years on the planet.

I don’t mind telling you that was a humbling discovery.

And while those nearly five decades of collective news gathering know-how are, of course, invaluable in their own right, the recent additions of younger, more tech-savvy reporters has definitely made our transition into the digital age just that wee bit smoother.

It’s not that we’re resistant to change. Not on purpose, at least.

Until his retirement a few years ago, one of our fellow reporters would often (jokingly, I presume) express a longing for a return to the days of “hot lead,” when each individual letter was typeset by hand.

He’d have been content, I’m sure, if mankind’s progress had come to a grinding halt the day after Gutenberg registered his patent.

But time marched on, eventually giving the world’s “poor, ink-stained wretches” keyboards and floppy disks.

When I started out in the mid-1990s, we were taught desktop publishing in journalism school because that was the future of the industry, and it was already being implemented at most papers of any size.

The reality in the small northern town where I landed after graduation was slightly less glamorous — and far more labour intensive.

Each week, I saved my stories onto a disk along with my pre-developed black-and-white photos and jumped in my old Accord to drive an hour west from Houston to Burns Lake — an especially fun journey in December.

There, the compositor would print out my copy in one-column strips and paste it up on a paper dummy. After that, it was boxed up and sent by Greyhound bus to the press hall in Williams Lake.

Fast forward 19 years, and things look a little different. These days, my photographer emails me images directly from the scene, via her fancy digital camera.

Developing stories can be changed on the fly with a few quick keystrokes.(Right up until press deadline, that is. Some things don’t change).

Then it’s time to get them up on our website and link them to Twitter and Facebook, in order to reach a wider audience and make the information easier to find.

Photos need to be instagrammed. Tweets need to be tweeted and then embedded into stories, adding hyperlinks as we go.

The video that was presumably  shot along with the photos also needs to be edited and posted.

I won’t lie, the adjustment — though somewhat gradual — has been challenging at times. It’s no small thing to rewire the brain to do by rote that which was little more than science fiction when I started out.

Of course, anything that helps us to tell our stories to as many people as possible is a good thing.

But I don’t mind telling you, there are still days when I get feeling a little bit nostalgic at the notion of a good old-fashioned floppy disk.

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