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Archives for December 2013


If one is resolute, does one still need resolutions?


Welcome, 2014. While this is ostensibly a holiday that celebrates the new year, it is in fact the Day of Constant Collegiate Football.

I herewith bear the gift of NO — silent, that is — gridiron gab and color commentary.

Thus, if you watch television on this Day of Constant Collegiate Football, you must turn off the sound and listen to the 1812 Overture instead. Or anything except the two guys who allegedly tell you what’s what. I also favor Bach and Scarlatti while watching gladiators of the gridiron butt heads over real estate. It dampens the sound of concussion.

So I offer here all the play-by-play and color commentary that you will need to watch one bowl game after the other. I guarantee that after reading this dialogue, you will need no verbal narrative description of what you see right before your eyes. This dialogue is one size fits all.

Play-by-Play guy: And Jones of the Mighty Mucklucks sweeps the end through a really big hole; he’s at the 49, the 40, the 35, and a touchdown! So it’s Mucklucks 6, Mudhens nothing. That was some run.

Colorguy: Without question, it was a tremendous run. If the Mudhens don’t play better defense, they could lose this game. Defense is the name of the game

PBP: Here’s the kick, and it’s good. Mucklucks 7, Mudhens nothing. That was some kick.

C: Without question. The kicker used his right foot, and it went through the uprights. If the Mucklucks continue to score this way, they might just win this game. Offense is the name of the game. Of course if they don’t and Mudhens score more, the lucks will lose. You have to score points.

PBP: So here’s the kickoff, Smith of the Mudhens fumbles the catch! The ball is loose, but the Mudhens recover. The hens caught a break. Catching breaks of the name of the game.

C: Without question, If the Mudhens don’t hold on to the ball, it could cost them points. That’s the problem with the ball, it’s oblong. Hard to hold. It bounces funny. If they don’t hold on to it, they just might not win. It happens when you don’t score more points. Scoring is the name of the game.

PBP: Michaels fades back to pass, it’s very long. And Whitless catches it. A 70-yard score. What a great play.

C: Without question. If Whitless can catch more of those, the Hens could win this thing.

PBP: Michaels is over the center. It’s a long count….

C: Look for the Hens to run or pass. Unless it’s fourth and long. They might kick. Is it fourth and long?

PBP: It’s first and 10.

C: Without question, it’s a run or a pass.

You also might like Vivaldi, and I have nothing against the Rolling Stones or Shawn Colvin. Or Keith Jarrett, Gershwin, Hank Williams or Puff the Magic Dragon.



The Star reported this month its president and publisher, John Humenik, is off to greener and colder pastures, being named by Lee Enterprises to take charge of the Wisconsin State Journal and other area papers. Humenik came to Tucson in 2005. A Lee executive said of Humenik’s Tucson reign:

“With John’s leadership, the Arizona Daily Star has delivered outstanding results in every aspect of our business — from magnificent journalism and service to the community to powerful results for advertisers — leading to rapid audience growth and impressive financial performance.”

The statement might be true.

Under Humenik, classified ads disappeared, which was/is an industry-wide sad fact. Some of the Star’s news sections disappeared, the Accent section, a feature section. The Sunday TV listings was removed from the paper and sold as a separate item. The local news section, “metro and region” makes an appearance but once a week on Sundays. And those cutbacks reflected an aggressive cutting of both news staff and newsprint use, the two greatest costs of newspaper production.

During Humenik’s watch, Tucson Newspapers enticed the grocery stores to move their advertising from direct mail to the newspaper. Back in the day, grocery stores grew irritable at newspaper pricing because of constant increases and arrogant attitudes. That was before the bottom fell out. The grocery stores have returned. Fry’s ads seem to dominate. The use of the gate-fold wrappers that cover the first news section and often the Sports section may annoy readers, but the advertisers just love it. It is a rare day indeed that Star readers don’t have to  struggle to remove the gate-fold wrapper from the Front Page. The gate-fold is that flap of newsprint on the front. In addition to Fry’s, Jim Click sells cars, Jack Furrier sells tires using the gate fold.

While I suspect Humenik had nothing in particular to do with it, companies that sell stuff to an aging America have gravitated to newsprint newspaper advertising. Hence, the impressively depressing flood of hearing-aids, residential retirement  and assisted living developments and, of course, the toothless full page ads for dental implants. The spirit of Walter Brennan lives in those ads.

But the statement concerning “rapid audience growth” requires some further explantion, expansion, and elucidation. There very likely was and has been online audience growth. But for the newsprint version of the Star, the one that lands on doorsteps and becomes fishwrap, there’s been a decline.

The year-end 10-K report filed in 2004 by Pulitzer Inc., which owned the Star at the time, said the Star’s print circulation was 106,618 daily and about 62k greater on Sunday. This would be just before Humenik landed at the Star. Today, as he leaves the Star eight years later, the daily print circulation is 77,547, Sunday’s circulation is 123,162; this is according to the latest 10-k report, which was released on December 13. This represents a drop of 29,071 or 27.3 percent during Humanik’s watch.

The trend is accelerating:

                       2004                           2006               2012               2013

Daily             106,618                     104,731         82,305           77,547

Sunday         168,000                     156,694         133,558         123,162

Daily Circulation dropped 5k from last year to this; Sunday circulation dipped by 10k. If ever there was a no confidence vote, this is it.

This is not all of the story. In 2009, the Tucson Citizen ceased publication. In 2004, the combined daily circulation of the Star and Citizen was more than 138k. When advertisers bought ads, they appeared in both papers. This is because in terms of economics the papers were partners, operating under a joint operating agreement (JOA) sanctified by Congress in what should be regarded in hindsight laughingly as The Newspaper Preservation Act (1971).

This was in effect a monopoly that would have violated the Sherman Anti-Trust Act if the newspaper industry — already heavily anointed with privilege and approbation by the Founding Fathers in the First Amendment — had not been exempted. The Congress passed the exemption based on the logic that communities benefitted from having two newspaper voices. Thus, the newsrooms were to be maintained separately while the sales, distribution and production costs were shared according to some formula. In Tucson, the partners split profit and cost 50-50.

JOAs, however noble in intent, present enormous barriers to newspaper competition. But if one of the JOA papers nonetheless goes out of business, there is no residual notion of preserving two voices. The Citizen went kaput. But its owner, the Gannett Co., still retains half the profit and expense, as per a contractual agreement. As for the Citizen’s voice, it is but a faint, online squeak.

The point of this digression is to emphasize that the Citizen’s sad demise did not translate into additional circulation for the Star. More than 30,000 former Citizen subscribers decided to do without a newspaper rather than subscribe to the Star.

The Star’s circulation decreases reflect a sharp decline in Lee’s financial health, which at this point is rickety. The decline of its stock value has been widely reported along with the supposedly generous compensation awarded its top boss Mary Junck. The effect of the huge burden of debt the company acquired when it bought Pulitzer Inc. in 2005 has not been well reported because it is difficult to understand.

Some of the provisions of the interest payments evolved around Libor, which stands for the London Interbank Offered Rate. This is the rate banks charge for money. There is currently a scandal widely unreported in the United States, but duly noted in Great Britain, that Libor rates were manipulated by various agents. Here is what Lee says in the 10k is its exposure to those Libor rates (The language is allegedly English):

“Our debt structure and interest rate risk are managed through the use of fixed and floating rate debt. Our primary exposure is to LIBOR. A 100 basis point increase or decrease to LIBOR would, if in excess of LIBOR minimums discussed more fully below, decrease or increase, respectively, income before income taxes on an annualized basis by approximately $6,095,000 , based on $609,500,000 of floating rate debt outstanding at September 29, 2013.

“Our debt under the 1st Lien Agreement is subject to minimum interest rate levels of 1.25%. Based on the difference between interest rates in December 2013 and our 1.25% minimum rate, LIBOR would need to increase approximately 91 basis points for six month borrowing up to approximately 109 basis points for one month borrowing before our borrowing cost would begin to be impacted by an increase in interest rates.

“At September 29, 2013 , approximately 71.9% of the principal amount of our debt is subject to floating interest rates. We regularly evaluate alternatives to hedge the related interest rate risk.”

The 10k notes that Lee still owes more than half the money it borrowed to finance the purchase of Pulitzer Inc. Lee paid $64 per share to acquire Pulitzer, which has to be one of the luckiest sales in the history of the industry and certainly makes Michael Pulitzer a financial genius. And on the other hand, Lee’s CEO Mary Junck looks like one of P.T. Barnum’s born-everyday suckers. She continues to be well-paid for her colossal error and many consistently unsuccessful efforts to reverse the company’s continuing financial misfortune.

Junck’s company shelled out $89,477,000 in interest expense in 2013. Since 2009, Lee has listed $363,763,000 in interest expense. This current 10k report states that Lee owes $847,500,000 in principal and is obligated to pay $208,788,000 in interest. This amounts to a bit more than $1 billion. Lee bought Pulitzer for $1.46 billion eight years ago. The debt burden combined with the huge drop in revenue offers no room to maneuver.

The first thought is that perhaps Junck & Co should sell off assets to pay back debt. It did sell its Hawaii paper and another in Escondido, Calif. It made some money and lost some. But if the company sells its assets it also decreases its revenue flow.

The company may find a way out of the morass created by Junck & Co. But the possibility is that it might not. And the company admits it in a section devoted to risk factors: “We May Have Insufficient Earnings Or Liquidity To Meet Our Future Debt Obligations.”

Lee likes to tout the fact that it operates in noncompetitive markets. But it is not gaining circulation because it cannot figure a way to create a better product with fewer resources. Lee is a conventional corporation that happens to own media products. Its attitude toward its products — newspapers — is about the same as Proctor & Gamble’s attitude toward its products. Stuff is stuff, and selling one thing is about the same as selling another. Lee has a long list of personnel on its management team. They are in charge of stuff like finance, strategy, human resources, same stuff as P&G; soap or newspapers, same stuff.

But news is not a conventional product. It is not, for example, subject to the law of supply and demand, at least not in the conventional sense. And good news is not the same as a good story. Bad stories can be good stories maladroitly rendered — badly written, incompletely reported, badly edited, misplayed and misunderstood — rather than a bad soap bar. Marketing 101 doesn’t account for these differences. In fact, you might ask whether Yellow Journalism was the first instance of what we now call mass marketing. If so, it’s worth remembering that the practice was pioneered by newspaper editors less interested in money and much more preoccupied with attracting readers by running hot-stuff stories. This was long before Marketing 101 ever poked its nose into a business school curriculum.

The best illustration of this difference is in “City Editor,” a book published in 1934 by Stanley Walker, the city editor of the New York Herald Tribune. Here Walker explains the city editor’s job: He notes that, “the city editor has one of the best jobs which journalism has to offer. He can mar his paper, or help make it great. There are dull stretches, but usually there is not time to do all the things that cry for doing. The job is run by organization, but it must be, in some aspects, unconventional, for news itself is unconventional.”

In my career as an editor, I found it best to be conventional, to follow the generally accepted ways of newspaper management, do the expected thing, go along, get along. I worked for a family paper for a while in which journalism was kept upper most in mind. Then it became a corporation, where the requirement was to put profit first. I had some moments when I might swerve off the conventional path, but not so anyone would much notice or care. I would have invited big trouble if I had been consistently unconventional. I cannot actually define “unconventional” as it relates to news as in, “that’s a good story.” It’s a lot like Potter Stewart, the Supreme Court justice who said he could not define obscenity, but knew it when he saw it. It certainly consists of more than “man bites dog.” I think a newspaper could attract a great following in these dismal newspaper days, but only if it were led by a latter-day Charles Dana or Joseph Pulitzer. He or she would have to have the dedication and the power to run a paper against all convention.

While I also can’t really say what it might mean to be unconventional, I have run into one sterling description of the sort of newspaper that once drew  readers by the thousands. Ben Hecht’s autobiography, “A Child of the Century,” published in 1954, contains this superb passage:

“There was Arthur James Pegler, the salty and verbally crackling father of Westbrook, the mighty columnist-to-be. Pegler, pere, was the inventor of the blood-and-thunder rhetoric which became known as the Hearst newswriting style. He wrote once, in a magazine tale, a description of the thing he helped create: ‘A Hearst newspaper is like a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.’ ”

Definitely beyond Marketing 101. And anything John Humenik would mess with.


Four legs, good! Two legs, better!

You probably remember in Animal Farm the pigs’ campaign for revolution included a damnation of two-legged oppressors — old MacDonald, I think. I’m relying on memory here.  When they take over the farm, it is not long before the pigs proclaim that four legs are good, but two legs are better.

The allegory leaped to my mind as I read the story today of China’s celebration of Chairman Mao’s 120th birthday. No one can doubt that Mao would view the onslaught of capitalist running-dogs in command of the so-called People’s Republic with a disapproving eye. But this paragraph from the LA Times story by Julie Makinen with a Beijing dateline is beyond the pale:

“In Mao’s hometown of Shaoshan, a solid gold Mao statue on a 3-foot tall jade base — said to cost more than $16 million — went on display this week. Leading up to the anniversary, a caravan of 120 camels was marched from Mongolia to Shaoshan over the course of 200 days to build anticipation for the event.”

Maestro, a drumroll for Mr. Orwell if you please.




Fate of the Big Horn Sheep; and a reply from Bunny Fontana

desertbighornMore than 25 years ago I attended a celebration, the promotional grand opening of a spectacular land development, La Reserve. It was developed by Bill Estes Jr. and his company. It was an end-of-day affair, and I drove from Park and Irvington on the far southside to a new building, a headquarters, on the backside of Pusch Ridge. It felt like driving to Phoenix.

It was about this time year, just before Christmas. It was bone-chilling cold. The road wound around the new Sheraton Hotel and then up the ridge. I was surprised. The road ran a long way up the mountain, and I wondered how Hillside Ordinance would permit development this far up. This was a little bit of county legislation passed in reaction to the purchase of a hilltop in the Tucson Mountains by Garry Brav, a contractor. Brav didn’t just buy a hillside. He bought a mountain at the end of Trail’s End Road, which is a tributary of Camino Del Oeste on the westside. Brav proposed to build a home on the top of the mountain. A great protest ensued. The ordinance passed. But Brav was there first. You can see that Brav has built a compound at the top of one of the peaks. The road switches back up the mountain. It is a very steep rise.

Trail’s End is one of those gated communities. But you can see through binoculars that there are two big houses at the top of the mountain. And of course you can see the road and the great and needless scar up the mountain. Environmentalists in those days were somehow more vocal, prone to raising hell over the slightest blip in the desert. They had sway if for no other reason than they hollered.

In any event, this place reminded me of the Hillside Ordinance. For good reason. The road rose sharply, and it was then I understood why some environmentalists had hollered about the threat to the already dwindling herd of Big Horn Sheep in the Catalinas. They contended that Estes’ La Reserve development would spell the end of the Big Horn in the Catalinas.

If you are not from around these parts, the Santa Catalina Mountains lie north of Tucson, as pretty a bunch of sky islands as you’ll ever see. They rise majestic from the desert floor at about 2500 feet above sea level to somewhere around 9,000 feet. As my grandmother said about giving birth to eight-pound twins, that’s quite a chore. It still amazes me that it takes but about three quarters of an hour to get from saguaro cactus to tall pines and purple lupine. It’s something desert rats like me take for granted, but still makes my jaw drop just the way it did when as a kid I saw my first redwood.

The Catalinas accommodated, deer, Big Horn, bears, mountain lions and the like. In good years, there was ample water.
As the temperature dropped, the guests at this grand gathering were treated to cheese and wine. And then Bill Estes Jr. stood to speak.
Estes was in his time an enormous influence in this town. At one point, I am very sorry to say, I thought he was a villain developer, out to wreck the desert. This in the 1980s was a popular view. And quite wrong as a short story will illustrate.

Estes & Co in this time owned another development the northwest side. A Star reporter got a tip that this development threatened to ruin the habitat of hawks that had taken residence and even foster families. There was a nest or a bunch of nests, my memory is a little imprecise. The reporter wrote a story that foretold the likely destruction of the birds. It was a one-sided account, told only from the point of view of outraged environmentalists. The reporter said he tried to obtain a response from the developer, but was told no one was available. The reporter and his editor concluded the developer was simply avoiding commenting on an embarrassing environmental problem. Thus a one-sided tale appeared in the Star in a Page One Sunday article. On the following Monday, I received call from a manager at the Estes organization requesting a meeting. A couple days later at that meeting, Bill Estes’ managers noted that they not only knew of the hawks’ nests, but checked on them daily. In fact, they knew the birds well and liked them, were concerned about them, had consulted experts. Moreover, they had a plan to take care of them. I ordered another reporter to redo the story.

I do not remember what Estes said. Just that he held up one of those ceremonial checks. It was made out to the University of Arizona for $100,000 and meant for research into the preservation of Big Horn Sheep. Then it began to snow. It was breathtakingly beautiful. It fell heavy and soft. A big snow in the desert happens but once or twice in half a lifetime, and I saw this one from very high up. It was spectacular. The Big Horn Sheep disappeared six or so years later. The prevailing assumption has been that the sheep were the victim of development, human encroachment. It was an easy and simple explanation, too simple really, the sort of thing that’s actually supposition but taken as gospel.

That’s the reason I welcome the experiment by the Arizona Fish and Game Department to introduce 31 Big Horn Sheep in the Catalinas. It is a worthy experiment because it should resolve the question of sheep survivability.

Four sheep have been killed so far by mountain lions. This has provoked sharp criticism. Arizona Fish and Game officials have killed two lions. The critics contend this a great tragedy. They may be right. Then again, if the sheep learn to survive, the Catalinas will be richer habitat. We are able to keep track of the sheep because they are equipped with GPS collars and thus we know where they are. And evidently, so do the mountain lions.


A reply by Bunny Fontana:

Dear Steve,
I certainly don’t profess to know anything about desert bighorns other than to enjoy the beauty of seeing them in the wild (which I have, out in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge). But I have a couple of friends who know a lot about them, including one who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the subject but who is now retired and living in the northern reaches of Alberta, Canada.

If I understood them correctly in numerous conversations with them, desert bighorns are semi-migratory, which is to say that seasonally they come down out of the rocks and steep mountainsides to graze on annual grasses and other forage in the intermontane valleys before, as is often the case, moving onto one of the adjacent mountain ranges. In other words, they are basin-and-range creatures, not simply (mountain) range animals. Norman Simmons, the guy with the Ph.D. dissertation, used a paintball gun and different colors of indelible paint to shoot populations of sheep in separate ranges on the Cabeza Prieta. This was in the pre radio-collaring days, so it was a somewhat crude way of being able to tell on sight which sheep had been where. It wasn’t long before Mexicans a long way south of the border began reporting sightings of bighorns wtih different colored splotches on them.

What all this suggests is that in order to maintain a stable population, desert bighorns need more than just mountains. They need the valleys, too. Moreover, unlike javelinas, coyotes, raccoons, and bobcats, which seem not to mind suburban (and even urban) surroundings all that much, desert bighorns are notoriously skittish around Homo sapiens. This would further suggest that it is the overall development next to and up into the Catalinas that is the problem and not that of any single housing or commercial devleopment. Places like Oro Valley and Saddlebrooke figure into the equation as well.

Arizona State Fish & Game relies solely on sales of hunting and fishing licenses, including the very expensive permits to hunt desert bighorns, for its income. There are plenty of desert bighorns thriving in places like the Kofa Mountains; the species is not endangered. But no one lives in the Kofa Mountains nor are the Marines and Air Force folks bombing hell out of it. So why not plant desert bighorns in the Catalinas should there be even the slimmest chance a potentially lucrative source of G&F income might be generated? And God knows there are plenty of mountain lions, animals that sometimes need to be “harvested” at a cost to G&F. Those big kitties are great until they start to eat your livestock or gobble up your pets.

Someone whom I would trust as knowledgeable told me the other day there is a huge number of mountain lions in the Catalinas, some of them now routinely showing up in places like Sabino Canyon and in the yards of people living in the foothills. This person actually cited a figure, but other than being surprised by how high it was, I don’t recall the exact number.
It would be nice to have desert bighorns within view again. Just as it would be nice once more to see Sonoran pronghorns at Oracle Junction as Hazel and I did when we arrived in Tucson in 1955. But except for temporary injections like the one currently being administered, I suspect those days are gone forever.
B. \ /
_( )_

A Streetcar Named FUBAR

copy-header1.jpgIt’s hard to believe how dysfunctional the Tucson Mayor and Council are. They whine and whimper until hell won’t have it. It’s embarrassing. And it’s impossible to picture a more pathetic spectacle than elected officials declaring absolute impotence.

Tucson’s city government was created in the 1920s during the era of goody-two-shoes morons who assumed that professional managers were better than politicians. That was OK for a two-bit, cow-town burg that Tucson was for so many years. But today the weak mayor and strong city manager form embodied in the Tucson City Charter is wholly inadequate for a major metropolis.  It is a city of potholes and incompetent governance.

Take, for example, the water tax that continued for three years because the staff failed to tell the elected officials that it was still on. The city imposed what is called a tax on water users, but technically was a fee. It was supposed to have a limited run. But it is still in place after three years. The council didn’t know. Who knew? Who’s on first? This is not city government. It’s Abbot and Costello.

City Councilman Paul Cunningham was offended. As quoted in the Arizona Daily Star: “Why have a City Council when no matter what we decide, staff does whatever they want? The tax may be justified, but that’s not the point. The council wasn’t given the final say.”

The council “wasn’t given the final say.” That’s a sad statement indeed. Whose “say” was it? The staff’s, the city manager’s? Why of course. In the first place, the only full time elected official is the mayor and he’s paid diddley squat. The council members are paid a pittance to sit around and twiddle thumbs.

Might as well because the city staff has the elected alleged politicians by the short hairs. Here’s the evidence, an alleged explanation from Kelly Gottschalk, the city’s chief financial officer, again as per the Star:

“The total budget is $1.3 billion dollars and very complicated. Given the context of the overall size, complexity and ongoing challenge to continually respond year after year to budget deficits, the in-lieu sunset language in a prior year motion was not forward in the minds of staff.” The story also said that Gottschalk said “while no requirement exists that the item be approved other than what was done each year, the staff could have reminded the council of the motion regarding the sunset.

You won’t find a bigger load of rubbish in the nearest land fill. The horse pucky is sky high in the city manager Richard Miranda’s office. Here is the crock of untreated sewage Miranda offered as reported in the Star:

“There are expectations that we provide the mayor and the council with the best information available to allow them to make informed decisions. We are doing everything we can to meet this expectation.”

If that is everything the city manager’s office can do, seems clear the city needs a new city manager. No that won’t work. The city needs a strong mayor structure, the kind where pettifogging bureaucrats get their arses kicked from here to Tuesday when they don’t keep stuff “forward” in their alleged minds.

The howling city bureaucratic stupidity, however involves the streetcar named FUBAR. Earlier this month the Star reported that the city needed $13 million it didn’t have to finance its trolley system.

But not to worry, the city will borrow the money. Here’s city council member Steve Kozachik as reported in the Star:

“For the last two years, we’ve been told that the project is on time and in budget. And I’ve been saying neither is true. The cars are late and now we’re told that we have a significant funding gap. It’d be nice if staff would start telling us straight so people can believe what they hear when it’s coming from the mouths of government officials.”

But it’s just $13 million short. Andrew Quigley, Tucson’s Sunlink co-manager, told the Star that the $13 million shortfall shows how smart and effective the planning for the project was because the cost overrun was only half of what they thought it would be.

This is absurd. Congratulations, you are a fool.

Of Typewriters and Time

cropped-old-typewriter.jpgNoisy Typewriter is software that makes the sound of a typewriter when you hit computer keys. It produces a comforting clack. When you hit the backspace key, it makes the sound the typewriter would make, sort of an errrt. When you hit the tab for a paragraph, you get a ding just like returning the carriage. When you hit the arrow key up or down, you hear the sound of the roller as though you were loading paper.

I love this program. In fact, from time to time, it stops working, sort of decides to go outside for a smoke. Or I have turned down the computer’s speaker volume. In any event, silent running is now unsettling. But it’s easy enough to coax it back to clack.

It took only a short time for me to become addicted to the sound of the keys banging. It’s a DNA thing. My writing life started with the typewriter. I started composing with the typewriter rather than a pen. I did not realize how much I missed the sound. The only analogy I can think of is comfort food. It’s like having grown up having meat loaf once a week. Then for like 30 years you go without meat loaf. Then suddenly, it’s there on your plate. You don’t eat so much as devour.

The typewriter sounds spark all manner of nostalgia, particularly of the newsroom and the machine I used, an Underwood from the 30s or 40s. It had many a user. From what it weighed, I figure the metal could be melted down for a Volkswagen.

I was obsessive about gunk in the keys. I wanted crisply struck letters. I also wanted to procrastinate. I felt I had to rid my copy of ink-filled “o”s and “e”s. The “e” was a serious problem. I used chemicals to clean the keys, which spread with a toothbrush. Later, there was a gummy ball of clay-like material that would clean the keys. It was a ritual. At least I did not invoke  incantations or mantras.

I was also obsessive about my glue pot. The paper bought rubber cement by the gallon. The glue was poured into plastic jars. The  jar top was attached to a shaft with the brush at the end. You used the glue to attach sheets of copy paper. One story thus could have several sheets of copy paper — this is newsprint cut to size that was somewhere in between regular eight and half by eleven and legal size. The advantage in gluing pages was in the fact they didn’t get lost.

When rubber cement is exposed to air long enough, it hardens. This is a bad business. Some reporters took advantage of this characteristic and rolled gobs of glue into balls and used them as projectiles.

The daytime shift was usually 9 to 6, and at the end of the day, there were 20 or 30 typewriters giving full voice to the orchestra, writers hunched over their instruments — except for AJM. He never looked at the copy he was writing. He raised his head high as though he were Horowitz at Carnegie Hall, turning his head left and then right, swaying to a music only he could hear. His copy, however, left much to be desired, and the last I heard he was working at a Circle K. He was not the first such newspaperman to wind up tending a Circle K, and for a while I wondered if that was where all of us would wind up eventually. In those days, you didn’t take much of a pay cut when you landed behind a Circle K cash register.

Just to round out this little nostalgia waltz, I want to point out that I still have the pica pole first given to me when I started at the Star in 1971. My name is engraved on it. This was done by Swanee — one Porter Swanson — the Star’s librarian, a very nice man with many fine qualities, none of which, I suspect, included library skills. I also have my scissors from the time, a pair of exquisite shiny chrome with an edge that has held for 40 years.

Finally, I must mention the reporter’s desk. This is a custom I have preserved in old age. I am amazed at the amount and quality of flotsam that unconscious hands seem to broadcast on my desk. At least I do not eat over my keyboard. I recall vividly an editor one early morning in the newsroom using a full-sized vacuum cleaner with hose to extract what must have been a ten-year collection of bits of  pizza, sandwiches, hot dogs, Pepsi, coffee, tea leaves, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Jack’s Barbecue from the keyboard of a recently departed reporter. It took her much longer than she would have liked.

One reporter, DW, who was both dyslexic and a slob, was famous for her desk. The janitorial staff was directed not to clean reporter desks because there might be precious material buried among the three-week old newspapers, scraps of paper, tin foil and doggy bags. I know of no Pulitzer Prize that was buried in garbage. Nonetheless reporter detritus was allowed to accumulate on desks. This consisted mostly of pizza boxes, scattered rather than stacked, and containing gobs of now-hard cheese, sausage and pepperoni. In between the pizza boxes were square Chinese take out boxes, half filled with fried rice, moo-shoo pork and kung-pao chicken. The desk itself was known as D’s landfill. Sometimes an editor with authority would leave her a note to clean up her desk top. She threw these away, muttering to herself that she possessed no desk pot.

I have seen many newsrooms, and they are typically in great disarray. Some reporters, of course, are worse than others. But the most startling newsroom I ever saw was in Fort Lauderdale at the Sun-Sentinel. Every desktop was clean. As a whistle. There were no newspapers, no pencils, no nothing. I asked my guide if this was an insurance office rather than a newspaper. He said the publisher had ordered all reporters to clear their desks or be fired. I could only shake my head. It was just one more piece of evidence to add to the great pile I had collected over the years and had led me to the unshakable conclusion that newspaper publishers of my time, with rare exceptions, were a brain-dead life form.


From Bunny Fontana:

I taught myself to type on a Remington standard when I was still in elementary school: three fingers and a thumb at a time.  That’s the way I type today.  I never learned the keyboard and still couldn’t type blindfolded.  But I can whack out about 70 wpm.  And have whacked out millions of words over the years.
Hazel used a typewriter almost to her dying day.  She never touched a computer.  She had her typewriter mounted to a board attached to the handle bars of her stationery bicycle, and typed letters to family members as she pedaled away.
They were wonderful machines, bells, black-and-red ribbons, and all!
Thanks for the memories.  B.


From Adolfo Quezada:

This post prompted a lot of memories of the Citizen newsroom in the 70’s . Funny, sad, I miss some of it.

Marketing Aristotle


Stephen, what do you think? Please share your opinion with others on Amazon.com.
Complete Works of Aristotle (Illustrated) (Delphi Ancient Classics)

I give it a 70, good beat, easy to dance to. I like the Plato stomp better.

Leave Well Enough …

Do not move the blog. Leave well enough alone. But, I had to mess with it. Bad things happened when I fiddled around. The subscribe button no longer worked. The drop down menu did not work. Same for comments. After several long hours of toil in the dark recesses of the blogosphere, I may have hit upon one solution for the subscribe button. This might work. Then again, I am prone to error.