By Tim Hayes
Walking down the Boulevard of the Allies in Downtown Pittsburgh the other day, on my way to a client meeting, I passed the building where the city’s main newspaper is published. The giant printing rollers can be seen through windows from the first floor, and I could smell the ink from the sidewalk.
That scent is like mother’s milk to me. I guess I’ll always be a newspaperman in the deepest part of my heart.
For someone who has never been bitten by that particular bug, my sentiment may be difficult to understand or appreciate. But believe me when I say that the time early in my career, spent as a contributing member of an actual working newsroom for a daily paper, remains some of the happiest, most entertaining, and fulfilling of my life.
It started in grade school. I suppose I was one of those weirdo kids who always knew what he wanted to be. Not a fireman. Not an astronaut. Not a baseball player. For me, it was always to be a writer.
Encouraged by the nuns and other teachers, and again by the newspaper advisor in high school, that choice became clearer and reinforced to deeper and deeper levels. The moment I saw my first by-line in the little weekly community paper – “What’s Happening at Carrick High – By Tim Hayes” – I was hooked for good. By the time I hit college, a journalism major really became the only – and best, most enthusiastic – option.
After paying some initial dues at the college paper for a couple of years, and serving a summer internship at the now long-defunct Pittsburgh Press (produced in the same building I walked by the other day), in my senior year I walked up to the town newspaper with my clips and asked to become a “stringer,” or freelance reporter. The managing editor took me up on the offer, and I got to start covering municipal government, school boards, and other assignments as they arose. Shortly before graduation, he hired me full-time, thereby launching my career as a professional journalist.
Every day brought something new. Daily deadline pressure sharpened one’s skills to a razor’s edge. The characters who populated the newsroom and the composition room in the back of the building still serve as the source of some great anecdotes.
But best yet, even in that small town newspaper building, when the presses would gear up to produce that evening’s editions, the smell of that ink would waft up into the newsroom. I couldn’t get enough of it. To be a part of that world of print journalism? Pure joy.
And why? I’m not sure where the appeal of journalism came from for me. Maybe it’s seeing one’s own by-line in print, knowing that you were able to collect information effectively, evaluate it skillfully, and write about it clearly and colorfully, so that other people could benefit from your efforts. Maybe it’s the satisfaction of being a part of something that starts from absolutely nothing, and in a matter of a few short hours, it reaches people’s homes, packed with information and insight – and that this creative creation happens every single day, without fail.
Or maybe it’s something that happens as a little kid, as you enjoy the tactile feel of a bundle of folded newsprint in your hands, and read the day’s comics and sports pages. A newspaper’s hold started there for me, and it’s still got a pretty firm grip all these years later, even though I left the newsroom as a working full-time reporter almost three decades ago.
So let the presses roll. Let the ink flow. They say newspapers are dying? Only for the uninitiated, uninformed, and uninterested. For old newspapermen like me, we can never get enough.
I’ll have to walk down the Boulevard of the Allies more often.
Copyright 2014 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting