Let’s turn the wayback machine to the mid-1990s. That little scamp Bill Clinton was in the White House and I was down in Myrtle Beach, toiling as design editor of the Sun-News daily newspaper of the (RIP) Knight-Ridder chain.
I think I went through three Thanksgivings in Myrtle Beach, and in each case, the Thanksgiving-week papers were the whoppers of the year. Page after page after page of ads occupied real estate in the paper in those days when advertisers still flocked to dailies as a major way to reach the public. And it was my job to fill all the non-ad holes with news content.
This was an operation planned, if not always executed, with military precision.
One of the biggest advertisers, the Belk department-store chain, would buy ads on something like 20 consecutive pages each edition around Thanksgiving, but, while Sun-News pages were six columns wide by 21 inches high, Belk would only purchase ads that were, say, 5 columns wide by 17 inches high to save some bucks on their end. So on all those pages, we had to run text across five columns and down 4 inches, then dog-leg the sixth column all the way down the full 21 inches.
While the motto of the New York Times might be “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” every other newspaper goes by “All The News That Fits”; if a story ran long, out came an X-acto knife and, whack!, the tail end was dispatched to the Promised Land.
Even for a daily newspaper with access to multiple wire services, it was no easy task to accumulate enough relevant content to fill all those spaces, particularly on the Thanksgiving Thursday and Black Friday editions. At a certain point, we were throwing in Associated Press articles about whatever latest war was going on in Africa, or some newfound species of reptile in the Amazon — anything to fill the holes.
They do not give Pulitzers for this, but one of those years, I had to get in several hundred column inches of a locally produced article listing all the social-service agencies that were looking for donations across the Grand Strand area of South Carolina. This was before computers took command of layout; it was all done by real humans (me!) drawing squiggles on layout sheets (AKA “dummies”) showing where the news went around the ads, then handing them to our production staff (all ladies and a fun group) and having them take the copy as it ran out of the developing machine, trim it, wax it and affix it to the pages, where it later would be photographed and turned into a press plate.
(Too much information? Sorry, I’m on a roll…)
Throwing caution to the wind, I dummied the several hundred column inches of text to run across six or seven pages with ads of varying sizes on each, and when all was said and done, through sheer serendipity ended up within a half-inch of perfection. I should have declared victory and retired undefeated from the layout game at that very moment.
Anyway, we all know what’s happening to the daily-newspaper industry these days. Every time Dave Facinoli goes down to Myrtle Beach for a summer vacation, he brings back a couple of copies of the Sun-News, a paper once so filled with ads (and staffed by non-unionized help) that its profit margin caused the Colombian drug cartels to turn green with envy. Not any more, alas.
But we’ll always have those memories of not so long ago.
RIP DOUG HILL: Sad news this week about the death of local TV weathercaster Doug Hill, who after a lengthy career at Channels 9 and then 7 retired to North Carolina a couple of years ago.
He was a pro; I once sat next to him at the head table of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce’s Valor Awards program, where he was serving as emcee. Given his background both in the military and the Prince George’s County Police Department, plus his smooth delivery of any script, he was a natural, and did the event for a number of years.
Trying to remember if Doug Hill was Channel 9’s #2 weatherguy when Gordon Barnes (not to be confused with Gordon Peterson the news anchor) was #1, then bumped up when Barnes departed. I’m thinking maybe so, but that was a while back and the mind is not what it used to be.
- Scott McCaffrey