As a reporter for The Floyd Press while attending high school from 1963-65, I wrote my stories on an old Underwood typewriter that sat next to a roll top desk in the newspaper‘s office on Locust Street.
When I went to work for The Roanoke Times in 1965, the typewriters were newer but still manual. You had to strike the keys hard to make sure the letters went through three layers of carbon paper that we used to produce copy.
In the mid 1970s, the newspaper I reported for in Alton, Illinois, replaced their manual typewriters with IBM Selectrics. It took a much lighter touch and I wore out three keyboards in two years because I still pounded the keys like I did with the ancient Underwood in Floyd.
In 1977, the newspaper replaced our Selectrics with computer terminals. The keyboards were so sensitive that hard-pounding typists like myself would generate duplicate letters by striking the keys too hard. It took a while, but I learned to use a lighter touch at the keyboard.
Still, I type with a heavy hand and usually go through two or three keyboards a year on the computers I use to produce copy for various web site and — once again — the Floyd Press.
A journalism student called recently with a request to sit down for an interview. She wanted to talk to someone who worked for newspapers “back when they still used manual typewriters.”
As we talked, I realized that she — and many other young journalists — never used a typewriter. They grew up in the computer age and now use laptops, netbooks, iPads and even cell phones with keyboards to send copy to their publications.
Many will never write a story for newsprint. Their efforts will appear on LCD screens of readers. When I sat at that roll top desk at the old Floyd Press office more than 45 years ago, I never thought I would outlive the profession that I had chosen for my life’s work.
I’m not talking about journalism. I’ve always considered myself a newspaperman, even though most of what I write now never appears on a printed page. I’m proud of the fact that some of my work still appears on processed wood pulp, even if it does end up at the bottom of bird cages.
Newspapers are a dying breed. More than 100 small dailies and weeklies ceased publishing in the last year and even the venerable New York Times says expects to be a digital-only publication in the near future.
It’s sobering to realize that you might outlive the profession that has defined your life for so many years.
And it’s sad.
Maybe that’s why I keep an old Underwood typewriter in the corner of a closet.