The family enterprise was news.
They covered beats and bashed out columns, shouted bulletins down the line to the rewrite desk on weird deadlines. They sent people around the city and around the world to take notes -- idiosyncratic as thumbprints -- and work them into stories.
They trimmed photos and conjured with headlines and remade the front page for the third time while delivery trucks idled. They won and lost arguments about editorial views consequential and not. Millions of inches of grey type, pages and pages: front, local, district, foreign, masthead, comment, finance, entertainment, sport. Sometimes they were isolated, trapped: the Women’s Pages.
There were so many of them: generations, siblings. They asked question after question; there was always more to be asked. They were roused, infuriated, bored, inspired, shattered. Sometimes they made A Difference. Often they made bitter jokes. They had trouble sleeping, nervous guts, and they drank. Heavy black telephones rang incessantly.
Paper moved around their offices like a sluggish circulatory substance, except where their desks bristled with spikes stuck with stories that wouldn’t make it; they frowned over stacks of copy, and then the next ones, pencils stuck behind their ears and cigarettes between their lips, kippering slowly in their blue-gray smoke.
The newsroom's din softened over time from the rattle of the old Underwoods, whose sound was of a journey, of being hauled over stones by an unpredictable animal, to the soulless popcorn-machine snap of electric typewriters and then the faint kiss of fingertip on keyboard. (Paperless. And a deadly kiss, as it turned out.)
They teased out the knot of the day’s regular and random events and acts of God. Expressways, charity teas, revolution; the publisher’s pet project or personal vendetta; heat waves, picket lines, police reports, elections, concerts. The Leafs. The Leafs... And all of it shoehorned with grease pencils and line gauges into unforgivingly tight quarters, penned in by precious ads for rubber boots and diamond rings, lunch counters, florists, car mufflers, for Eaton's and Simpson's.
In the sweat and heft of the pressroom the web of newsprint stretched through a thundering press that printed and sliced the news into a commodity, a loosely folded block, smelling of ink and barely dry when it thumped against the front door late each afternoon.
Sprawling across the sections spread out on the living room rug, you noticed that it left prints on your elbows and palms. Ghostly little words, reading the wrong way round.