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Portrait of an Early '50s Newsroom

Editor's Note: Here is a portrait of the newsroom of the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, Pittsburg, Pa., in the days when Byron Campbell was city editor, as told by his son, Malcolm Campbell, San Diego:

"The newsroom was different from any other office you've ever seen. It had a dozen or two desks with as many people surrounded by 2-piece phones -- some suspended from a scissors contraption; clacking manual typewriters; sputtering local radio, police, fire and primitive mobile phone receivers; coffee pots and cups; webs of pneumatic tubes leading who-knows-where; piles of mail; shelves of reference books; stacks of earlier and competitors' editions and an enormous pile of trash."

"The floor was the trash can for all discarded mail, scratch paper and complete newspapers pulled apart so that one page could be reviewed or cut up to be saved."

"The whole place shook when the presses started or a train went through the tunnel over which the newspaper was built.

"For his $4000 - $5000 salary, Dad regularly worked 10 -12 hours, six days a week and deployed reporters and photographers around the clock from home.

"After VE (Victory in Europe) day, we didn't see him for at least 3 days. During his newspaper carreer and later, he completely remodeled the farm house we had moved into in 1940.

"His status as city editor got us passes to every theatrical and sports event in Pittsburgh. Each Christmas brought mounds of gifts from the PR people for local business and political figures, and cards from movie stars. To the delight of us three kids, the many bottles of liquor were traded for Coke and candy.

"One of my most vivid memories from my childhood was of my dad bringing home the "funnies" after they were printed on Wednesday. My brother and I had the scoop on our heros' adventures. Of course, when I got older, I delivered the Tele for a few years.

"By the time The Sun-Tele was closed by Hearst in '58 or '59, they were using plastic plates and using color but the color was run on offset presses recently acquired by one of the other two dailies in Pittsburgh (only one is left today.)

"I have a few pieces of memorabilia of the paper including some old editions, original copies of miniature papers made especially to be sent to the troops in WWII and a photo and short 16mm movie of the Newsroom in the '40s.

Asked about this era of romance and nostalgia of early papers, Campbell said, "the romance and all the other nostalgic things you mentioned faded in the 50's and 60's as Hearst, Scripps-Howard and others began to look for black ink on the bottom line in the face of the growth of television and otherelectronic global news sources.

"Efficiency replaced romance as new machinery and techniques replaced the old. Competition between the two, three or four papers in a large metropolitan market was eliminated by closures and consolidations." "After my dad's death this fall at '87, no one in the photo was left. As a matter of fact, I have been able to contact only one person with any direct connection to any of the 3 papers of the era. Fortunately, she still has good memories of her experiences and the people she worked with."

Related news story:
"Early newsrooms: Light-years from dullsville" by Marilyn Nestor.

Click here to e-mail Malcolm Campbell

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If you wish to e-mail the RS&R editor, Neal McChristy, click here.

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