Time flies

The other day I was prowling through a box of files and I excavated one of the original SONY 110B cassette recorders we used when the Missourinet started developing stories late in 1974, a few days before our first broadcast on January 2, 1975. I know it was the original because it still had the Dymo Press plastic labels (some old-timers will remember those things) with my name and The Missourinet on the leather case.  Unless the batteries have been left in it all these years and have rotted out some critical works, it should still record.

A few days earlier I had been leafing through the 50th Anniversary edition of one of the best professional publications in our industry, the Columbia Journalism Review and came across  a couple of pages listing where things were when the magazine started about a baker’s dozen more years before we did.

All of this reminds us how much the mechanisms of news gathering and delivery have changed. But one thing hasn’t.

CJR notes that in 1961, there were 341 typewriter service shops in the Manhattan phone book.  Today there are 25.  I was surprised there are still 25, frankly.  But it’s nice to know that my trusty black Royal manual typewriter that produced thousands of stories for the Missourinet newscasts (and a couple of books) that sits on a table by my desk at home has a place to go for rehabilitation.

The Manhattan phone book had no computer sales and service shops in 1961.  Today there are more than 300.   Kind of surprising, too.   Just 300.

In 1968, says the magazine, there were only 400 minority group employees in American newspaper newsrooms.  Today there are fewer newspapers, fewer newsrooms, and fewer total employees.  But 5,324 of their employees are minorities..

In 1961 there were no women’s names on the mastheads of the five largest-circulation daily newspapers in the United States.  Now there are 23. And the number of daily newspapers in this country has gone from 1,761 fifty years ago to 1,387 now.

The magazine doesn’t look at similar numbers for radio and television.  But the 60s did give the national networks their first minority correspondent—ABC’s Mal Goode, in 1962..  There were very few women—Nancy Hanschman Dickerson was the first female White House Correspondent.  She became prominent for her coverage of Lyndon Johnson. Pauline Frederick had a long career stretching back into radio in the 40s but by the 60s and 70s when I remember her best she was the United Nations correspondent for NBC.  Today?  Women are familiar faces and voices all over radio and television—far beyond the roles they were given as the blonde sidekick on the anchor desk of the local news. Half of the Missourinet news staff today is female.

The number of households with cable in 1961 was kind of surprising—725,000.  Today it’s 62,874,000.  Channels?  Ha!  In 1961 television people in Columbia were scared stiff that CATV, as it was called then, would bring in stations from St. Louis and Kansas City and everybody in Columbia would go zipping down the new I-70 and go shopping in the cities, wiping out commerce in Columbia.   There were only 10,000 of us enrolled in the journalism schools of the nation back then.  That was before Watergate and consultant-driven glamour on the set got young people fired up.  Now there are 205,000 journalism school students, says CJR.

Here’s an interesting set of figures for those of us in the biz.  The magazine says the average salary of an anchorperson (almost always a man) in a top-25 market was $84,000 in 1961—the stuff that dreams were made of when a lot of us in this part of the country were hoping for a raise to $1.50 an hour.  By 1988 those anchor salaries had reached $240,000 a year.  Remember, we’re talking top 25 markets here, not places like Kirksville and Jefferson City or St. Joe, or Springfield and Joplin.  But the rise of cable, deregulation of the industry, speculation and conglomeration have taken a toll.  The magazine calculates the anchors (men and a lot of women) average only $118,000 a year.  I’d still take that job but I don’t think I smile enough.

Now for the younger generation there are some other figures.  The Columbia Journalism Review  counted two computers that were Arpanet/internet connected in the whole country.  Today there are more than 660,000,000.  Arpanet/internet traffic increased 21 times from 1970-1982, by another nine times form ’83-97 and another six times in the next decade.  The Arpanet was the system that grew into the internet.

In 1960, the cost per megabyte of computer memory was $38.6 million dollars (in 2010 money).  Today the cost of a megabyte of memory is 1.4 CENTS.

Would you be surprised to know that you probably carry more computer power in your pocket or in a carrying case attached to your belt every day than the Apollo astronauts had when they went to the Moon?

When the Missourinet did its first broadcast at 5:55 a.m. on January 2, 1975, we used cart machines—a couple of generations of newly-minted J-School graduates have no idea what a cart machine is.  Our own Allison Blood picked up a mini-disk a few days ago and asked “what’s this?”   The mini-disk was a big deal once.  We could record as much as two hours of digital sound (no tape hiss) on a recorder that fit in the palm of our hand, a major advance over cassettes in the loyal SONY 110B that gave us 45 minutes on each side.  We could buy cassettes that recorded an hour on each side but the tape was so thin it often wrapped itself around the capstan and wiped out an entire cassette.  Today we use recorders that are about the size of the 110B (there are newer, smaller ones than the ones we use, too) that can record THIRTY-TWO HOURS on a little card slightly larger than your thumbnail. There are still plenty of real old-timers out there who remember when the 110 series cassette recorders were light-year technological leaps for people in radio.

We could lapse into full fogey mode here and start telling you about having to walk two miles to and from school every day in thigh-deep snow, uphill both ways, but that’s not our purpose.

You see, there’s one thing that doesn’t change even as all of this technology gives us new tools that we couldn’t have imagined as little as five years ago.  All of these fancy tools are worthless if there are no good reporters who know how to get the news, write it, produce it, and put it out there for you to consume through an increasing number of platforms  (another word that has changed our business in the last decade).  There are, frankly, times when we at the Missourinet think that re-processing our stories for so many different platforms is robbing us of the time we need to gather the news. Tools in some ways get in the way of our reporting.

We are entering the time of year when the four of us and our colleagues with other news organizations who cover the capitol are put to an annual test.  The legislative session goes into mid-May.   It isn’t the tools that will ask the questions, push for straight answers, try to get something from a governor who seems to want to talk to everybody but the capitol press corps, or cut through the partisan bull feathers of a campaign year.  It’s the people of the press corps who will do those things.

It isn’t the tools that will get the news for you. It’s the reporters. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed.

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