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The sound of newsrooms past

Posted at 2:25 PM on May 31, 2007 by Bill Wareham (1 Comments)

Visitors to MPR's fancy new digs in downtown St. Paul often express surprise at how quiet the newsroom is. I wasn't quite sure what they expected until I heard this NPR Soundclip segment yesterday on All Things Considered.

It's listener Will Everett's ode to the old-fashioned teletype, a beast of a machine that every newsroom had at least one of, cranking out reams of wire copy that required ripping, sorting and posting to wall hooks so newscasters, reporters and other newsroom denizens could quickly peruse the latest info coming in from points around the globe. These things were so noisy you'd put them in a closet or a separate room if you could, but even then they provided a constant clickety-clack hum to the place, a sense of perpetual activity, as if to remind their keepers that the world never sleeps, so why should they.

Sometime in the 1980s the behemoth metal teletypes that reeked of machine oil and ink started giving way to smaller, plastic-cased machines that could fit on a desktop. While not entirely noiseless, you could carry on a conversation without yelling. Nowadays, of course, the wires come to us over networks that silently drop the information into computers programmed to self-sort the copy, which is delivered only upon request to a laser printer whose hum barely rises above a whisper.

It's all very civilized and I'm sure OSHA is happy, but for those of us who have been around newsrooms for awhile it can feel like something's missing.


Comments (1)


Bill, that was just plain beautiful. The newsroom is pretty quiet compared to Hollywood's depictions of what a newsroom is like. For example, to my knowledge no one at MPR chews on a cigar and races around the desks, yelling at anyone in earshot to get so-and-so on the horn. *grin*

What do people expect from newsroom activity?

In other news, you've got me all nostalgic for the sound of typewriters and the ring of a real phone bell. The cool taps of today's keyboards and the bitter, almost medicinal ring of my phone just don't have the same busy quality.

Posted by Julia Schrenkler | June 1, 2007 8:25 AM