My first newspaper job — writing, not throwing them on lawns — was for a small daily in my hometown.
Years before larger papers began bleeding personnel, cuts began at the smaller ones.
First, little staff luxuries, like receptionists and news clerks, disappeared. Then, traditional posts like lifestyle editor became part-time roles, and sports departments were reduced to “the sports guy” on staff.
By the time I joined up, researchers, copy editors, and such were long gone.
Also departed was the full-time photographer, the specialist whose job it was to understand light and lenses, craft and composition, the distillation of 1,000 words into one image, and the mysteries of the dark room.
There was no ready replacement for the full-time photographer in practical terms, let alone in terms of quality. Instead, the reporters were expected to take photos as needed to supplement their stories.
This took place in that gap before digital photography was cheap enough to be deemed feasible by the smaller papers, so we each carried either a cheap point-and-shoot 35-mm camera or, cheaper still, a disposable camera.
The paper still had a dark room, but it was used for storage. The tools and the chemicals, like the photographer, were long gone. None of us knew a thing about film developing, anyway, so the decision was made to farm it out.
Hello, one-hour photomat.
This being a small town, there was, however, a slight wrinkle: the photomat closed at 6 p.m., making the effective deadline for one-hour processing 5 p.m.
Our press ran at midnight.
Any photos taken after 5 p.m. therefore had to be either non-breaking news or really damned good because, either way, they weren’t making the next day’s edition.
Very rarely was the standard of “really damned good” even achievable, especially at night, with a cheap disposable camera with no flash.
My first venture into newspaper work was short-lived.