Rip at the Chronicle

Veteran L.A. newsman Rip Rense describes his visit to the San Francisco Chronicle, which, let’s be clear, is probably weirder than most newspapers because it’s in San Francisco.

Speaking of dark rooms, there were no more darkrooms. Right—no soup, no photographic paper, no clothespins on wires, no red lights, no chemical odors, no percussion of big camera lenses bouncing off photogs’ belts as they come back from assignment. Know what a newspaper photo department looks like nowadays, folks? Here’s a hint: it looks a whole lot like. . .every other part of the newspaper. You guessed it: desks and computers and silent people staring into them, their fingers going clickety clickety. The photogs and photo editors do everything digitally, on-screen. No more developing film, printing pics, cropping pics, physically carrying them to news editors, putting them in library “morgues.”

Obsolete as restraint.

I’m sorry, but when I think of newspapers, I just can’t make the Chronicle—or, to be fair, any other newsroom of a big-city paper—fit the word. Newspapers aren’t dim—they’re bright! Flash-bulb bright! That’s why the copy editors on the rim wore green eyeshades. (Of course, rims—curved copy desks—are long gone, too, replaced by the ubiquitous cubicle-cum-computer.) Low lights and quiet are a recipe for calm, and if there is one thing a newsroom should never be, it’s calm. Hell, get a couple of candles and a waiter, and the Chron would be a nice place to take a date.

No, newspapers are loud, rip-roaring (pardon the expression), raucous, chaotic, tumultuous, nutso collisions of humanity and idea! They are places where information runs head-on into heart and mind, and gets all twisted up in ink and paper and headlines and deadlines. They’re frenzied, messy rooms where you tear your hair out, or just lose it naturally. They’re homes to ulcer and tantrum, wit and prank, romance and divorce, good conversation and bad office politics. They’re salons, where sports guys talk to news guys (or gals), where editors yack with copyboys (or gals), where story ideas come from wisecracks about the morning headlines, and. . .

None of this can happen in places tyrannized by desks, cubicles, calm, and computer screens. At least, not nearly enough of it, I’ll wager.

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