I was editor of the first University of Alabama in Birmingham newspaper, or as they called UAB at that time the Extension Center. It was primarily a night time college, although a few classes were held during the day. The building was adjacent to the UAB Medical School.

People would drag in after work, but I was always surprised at their resilience as the classes proceeded.

There were some 18-year olds fresh out of high school, but my reporting staff were all in their twenties, so they kinda knew what life was about to be like.

There were many adventures in a new newspaper, but then some of them had been around for a while.

It was a monthly newspaper, and I had to do the layout by hand. I had a good idea of how many typeset lines a double-spaced typed page would take, but still I turned the stories over to the printer and they set the stories (I believe they were still using linotype at that time) and gave me a printed copy back.

I shuffled the stories and the pics (a copy pulled from a metal plate with a wood block. Tech-wise that was a cut, and the caption to be put under it was a cut-line). When I had a fit, I glued down the stories and pics, and sent the whole paper back to the printer. We started with a four-pager, but later probably averaged eight pages. We might have had a twelve pager once in a blue moon.

Today the entire paper is laid out by a computer. What took me about two days in the long ago, now takes about 30-minutes to an hour, and I’m talking about the paper you get at home every day. The college newspaper probably only takes about 15-minutes.

Some of the adventures I had getting to that point might have been like no other editor had ever faced.

We had a fellow on campus who was beyond genius smart. I think this guy understood Einstein’s Theory of Relativity when I knew no professor on campus did. I asked one of my lady reporters to write a story about him. She came back after the interview, and said his vocab was much beyond her, and she wasn’t sure she could write the story.

We had an excellent photographer who went on after college to work for a couple of major newspapers. One problem. This photographer was “creatively artistic”, as he called it, and wanted life or the universe or whatever in the background of his shots. I never knew exactly what I would get.

I gave him the visual of what I wanted in the picture. Sit this guy in a folding chair by a huge 100 year-old oak tree, with an open book on his lap, and him staring off into space. I told him I was not going to spell it out in the pic, and before they read the story, the reader would have no idea why the pic was shot like that, but after they read the story, they would flash back up to the pic, and realize he was sitting by the tree of knowledge.

After the photog developed the picture, he brought it to me. The guy was sitting in a Model T Ford in a 1920’s outfit complete with a straw hat. I looked at the pic for about 30-seconds without a word. Then the photog spoke up. “This guy has a fantastic sense of humor.”

A 100-watt light bulb came on in my head. I told the lady reporter who had initially interviewed him about his sense of humor, and asked her to re-interview him. She came back with one of the greatest stories I ever had as an editor. She interspersed his sense of humor, one-liners and all in the story, along with his intelligence which he brought down to the level that anyone could understand it

Those on campus had considered this guy aloof, but once the story came out he was the life of the party, if only we had had time to have a party.

I was always in need of filler material, two, three, maybe as much as six lines to go at the end of a column where the story had run out. I asked all my reporters to write me some filler material.

One of my reporters, who was an outdoor enthusiast, particularly water, and more particularly canoes, wrote one for me. “Before putting your canoe in the water, it is best to make sure your canoe does not have a hole in it.”

One of my lady reporters was fashion conscious. “Any lady can wear white after September, provided she is in a darkened theatre where nobody can see her.”

The faculty advisor for the paper was an English professor, and I also had English classes under her. I was notorious for tearing up the English language. I got away with a few phrases in the paper, which she regarded with some disdain, but I tried to be 100% English correct in her class. It drove her nuts.

College newspaper editors know no fear. I decided I would interview and write a story about the City Editor of our major newspaper the Birmingham News. The City Editor had written extensively about a crime that had happened in our city. Dumb me. I called him up. He said he would be glad for me to write a story about him and his stories. I hung up the phone. Then I realized what I had done, successfully completing the course in Stupid 101.  I thought the newsroom would be rolling in the aisles in laughter when I walked in to interview this City Editor who had been in the newspaper business for about 200 years, but he was very cordial. I got one of the best stories I ever personally wrote. This City Editor was normal in size, but he was still a big, big man.


Add comment