Like millions of Americans across the country, my start-the-day ritual involves sipping a wake-up cup of coffee while browsing through the morning paper. The routine has become so ingrained, I tend to take both the coffee and the newspaper for granted.
But last week, I began looking at my breakfast table newspaper with a newfound respect. The change in perspective was due to an informative tour we took of the offices of our local daily, The Charlotte Sun.
Since I began writing for various newspapers and magazines back in the mid 1970s, I smugly considered myself fairly knowledgeable about how such publications were put together.
I remember in my early days as a reporter and correspondent for the Chautauqua News and the Mayville Sentinel, one of my assignments was to cover the meeting of the Mina Town Board, the administrative body of our hometown, Findley Lake.
In spite of the fact that the news gathered at these often lengthy meetings was less than Earth shaking, for those living in our little community, the actions of the board were of great importance.
After each meeting, which broke up about 11 p.m., I'd telephone the newsroom at the Jamestown Post Journal, the "mother ship" of our small weeklies, and read my town board report.
In the background, I could hear the clicking of the typewriter as the copy editor took down the information.
Then, wonder of wonders, when I got home from my day job the next day, there were my words - edited and cleaned up, of course - in the paper for all to read. And beneath the headline was my byline, my personal bonus.
But when we toured the modern newsroom of the Charlotte Sun last week, the clicking typewriters were gone, replaced by the quiet efficiency of computers.
In fact, the entire operation of this cutting edge daily is controlled by a complex system of computers. From news gathering and reporting to editing to "paste up" - an old fashioned term all done effortlessly by the computer now - to the addition of the advertising, to the preparation of the print plates to the operation of the presses - with their four color print capabilities.
As our group moved through each department, experienced staff members explained how each area operated and how each depended on the one before it, then sent the product on to the next step.
At last we entered the final area. Here the papers were bundled for delivery. And it was in this section that I realized my memories of the early times of the newspaper business were hopelessly antiquated.
Gone are those long-ago days when young boys would pick up their bundles of papers, fold the issues and load their bags. Then the junior entrepreneurs would bicycle through their designated neighborhoods, flinging the paper onto porches - or into bushes, onto driveways, into snow banks. The accuracy of the toss would depend on the paperboy's pitching arm.
At the end of the week, when the time came to collect the fee for the paper, the youngster was often met with excuses, empty houses or any manner of dodges.
Today's delivery system is much more efficient. The folks in this final area of our tour explained their delivery people are considered sub contractors, paid by the newspaper. And the 100 plus members of this delivery team are professionals doing a professional job. No more youngsters on bicycles. No more missed payments. Just another indication that newspapers today are a far cry from those we knew back in my early newspaper days.
Since that fascinating tour, I look at my morning newspaper with new respect. I no longer take it for granted. Now that I'm aware of the dedicated team of technologically gifted folks behind those pages, I read more carefully, appreciating the work that went in to bringing that informative daily collection to my breakfast table.
It's amazing how far the newspaper world has come since those long-ago days when I covered the old Mina Town Board meetings.