After a while, coworkers become like family. This is especially true in journalism, which is no 9-to-5 endeavor. Long hours, creative and quirky personalities, multiple daily deadlines and plenty of pressure either breaks you early or forges a soul-resilience that, when shared with other survivors, makes for powerful bonds.
So, that’s why a video I found last week reached deep into my core. It’s from a Poughkeepsie Journal package marking the newspaper’s 225th birthday, a milestone in its distinction as the oldest newspaper in New York state and the third-oldest in the nation. The speaker is Harry Scrivani, a man I saw just about every day for 11 years.
Harry ran the composing room — a windowless enclave on the building’s second floor filled with the aromas of ink, hot wax and photo chemicals. It was the place where text, headlines, photos and graphics dropped from the newsroom one floor up were cut-and-pasted onto page flats before being photographed and burned into printing plates. This was, obviously, in the days before Photoshop, QuarkXpress and Dreamweaver.
For a geeky, green journalist like me, to enter it was to enter a place of mystery and danger. It was a union shop filled with characters, some whose personalities teetered on a razor’s edge as sharp as the X-Acto knives they wielded. A request to excise a typo from a headline — not uncommon — could be greeted either with a chuckle, stony silence or a string of epithets. Most of the guys down there had been in the business for years, back to the days of the Linotype, and they were fiercely protective of their realm. To touch one of their pages, even if your byline was on it, was to risk having one of their metal pica rulers slammed on your knuckles. Do not touch! And yet, they also were the ones to save your hide by pointing out the fact you’d just misspelled “Ohio” in 48-point type.
In this world, Harry was the Good Cop, and I think he often took pity on me as I scrambled downstairs to make sure my pages were on time and all together. His many acts of kindness in overlooking the dumb mistakes and incessant requests of a perfectionistic young journalist all came back as I watched him reminisce about his days at the newspaper.
Watch it: It’s one man’s remembrances of his work, and at the end he says something I think we’ll all say, eventually: “I miss it.”