You may have heard the old saying, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” With an uncle who was a hoarder late in his life, I think I know what they mean, but little did I expect it to happen to me.
No, I’m not suddenly a hoarder. But, I did find a couple of treasures the other day in my office at the Newton Daily News.
When I got here in late June, the office I now occupy was little more than a storage room. You know the kind I’m talking about: where everything you don’t want “company” to see gets stacked up to be out of sight, out of mind, and collecting dust.
My grandparents in Boone have one of those rooms; except theirs contains boxes upon boxes of genealogy records, the fruit of nearly six decades of effort of my grandmother’s part. As a kid, I was forbidden to go in there for fear I might bump into something and cause it all to come tumbling down.
Anyway, I made the best of my office situation for the first couple of months, clearing out a little bit of junk here and there until I was ready for the “next stage” of the process. But, as I was clearing out the room, I noticed on my office bookshelf what appeared to be a recording device of some sort, like a seismograph.
I assumed it had been left there by one of my predecessors, forgotten, and never taken when said predecessor left. But, I made a mental note to take a look at it when I finally had the time to do so.
I had much bigger issues to deal with in the meantime, though.
I had a changing newspaper staff to get acquainted with, a newspaper redesign to manage and new digital media initiatives to work on. Making my office a legitimate office just wasn’t a top priority for the first several weeks I was here.
Just ahead of John Jennings’ retirement open house, I set to sprucing up the place. In all, eight hand truck loads of “stuff” found its way into our basement storage.
But not that odd little piece of equipment I had found earlier.
Looking it over, on first inspection, I realized it wasn’t a seismograph, but a thermograph. For those of you not in the field of science, that’s a thermometer that makes a continuous record of the current temperature.
Scientists, particularly meteorologists, use thermographs to keep a permanent record of the temperature at any one point in time. In scientific experiments, this information could be a critical piece of information to consider when reviewing chemical reactions.
For a newspaper, however, it would be useful to have a thermograph to keep track of the daily high and low temperature when reporting that information in the next day’s edition. And while I have no idea where it would have been stationed, it’s clear the thermograph was used, based on the weathering on the temperature probe.
It was a very interesting piece of newspaper history, which I quickly shared with Daily News publisher Dan Goetz. He’s begun collecting a few pieces from the newspaper’s past. Another of the interesting artifacts in his collection is a darkroom timer.
“Back in the day,” when I still had to mix my own darkroom chemicals to process photos from film (ADHD moment: I processed my last film print in 2000), I used a similar clock with its glow-in-the-dark numbers and hands to keep track of my exposure times. But darkroom timers also were useful to folks who had to image the plates for the press.
With today’s technology, however, the need for a darkroom timer has all but disappeared. Even at a relatively small newspaper like the Daily News, we no longer image our plates. We have a machine that takes the digital image of our page and heat transfers it directly onto the plate.
Technology has changed the way we do a lot of things in the newspaper business. It has helped us to be more efficient, to work faster and to be more engaging with your readership. And strolling down Memory Lane only acts to reaffirm that fact for me.
The thermograph wasn’t the only treasure I found while sorting through the contents of my office. There were a couple of books on the shelf that I decided to keep around, but one in particular caught my eye.
You might remember a few weeks ago, I spoke about the content of the average Daily News contained more material than the average book. Even with today’s technology, it still takes months to produce a book, but that’s something we do every day.
Well, I must not have been the first person to have that thought.
“One Day,” a book published in 1929 by The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, is the record of events of a single day; with the exception of the page folios and an occasional footnote. It weighs in at 307 pages, and even includes the day’s comics.
The Foreword is a delight, showing how content had increased in the newspaper substantially from 1895 to 1927 (36.65 columns per day to 102.04 columns per day), and how circulation had similarly increased (6,317 in 1895 to 549,148 in 1927).
The price per issue had been one cent until 1917, when it was increased to two cents. I looked at Amazon.com to see how much a copy of “One Day” fetches these days. The price is as high as $8.
That’s a mark-up of 39,900 percent. If that doesn’t make it treasure, I don’t know what does.
If you’re reading this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading this in English, thank a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.
Bob Eschliman is editor of the Daily News. He may be reached at (641) 792-3121, ext. 423, or at firstname.lastname@example.org via email.