From carbon copies to cyber copies

By Angela Bensemann, Director Halo Communications

The clang of typewriter keys and the ‘ping’ of the return arm would ring out through the newsroom.

The carbon copied sheets of A5 size newsprint paper were fed into the roller and away we’d go. Keeping the copy tight and trying not to make mistakes.

As soon as you misspelled or changed your mind you had to backpedal over what you’d just done with a row of xxxxxs to cancel out the copy.

You had to think on your feet, plan what you’d write before you started and back yourself to get it right. Restarting, agonising over the perfect prose and changing your mind about the headline were luxuries you just didn’t have time for.

Upon completion, one copy was handed to the subs – the other was filed on your desk spike.

Seems unfathomable in this day of cut and paste, rewrite and rework and then filing to the cloud.

As a very junior reporter (working in my school holidays) I very seldom got it right. Spelling was an enigma and I had a loose grasp of important facts and what really mattered.

It was a baptism of fire in a newsroom full of seasoned reporters and professional subeditors with red pens raring to go. Those subeditors were true professionals honing what I’d written and making sure it was spot on.

You had to learn to think on your feet, take great notes and get to the heart of the matter quickly. If it wasn’t in your intro paragraph it probably wasn’t going to get read. (Nothing much has changed in that respect.)

The news media was the source of truth (or so it seemed) and it wasn’t unusual to be finding out things days after they happened.

As the junior reporter I specialised in stories on Diamond wedding anniversaries and cats gone missing.

I was sent out to talk to the local stamp society, report on school holiday programme fun and learn-to-swim classes.  I wrote a piece on prizes presented for a colouring competition as well, but my personal favourite was the article on Bovine Bingo.  I’m not sure any of that would make the cut today.

Nowadays everything is immediate – news is reported on almost before it even happens and often as it’s still unfolding.

Sub-editing seems to be a thing of the past with copious amounts of spelling and grammatical errors both online and in the newspaper. It seems to be more important to get it out quickly without getting it right – retractions and corrections are commonplace and even expected.

Stories can be changed up till the last minute and then added to further online.

Times have certainly changed from carbon copy newsprint that turned into column inches, was then pasted to pages, painstakingly cut with scalpels, and then magically run through printing presses to produce newspapers.

What hasn’t changed is our desire to keep up with the latest news, we just want it now and seemingly as it comes – no need to be perfectly fine-tuned.