This past Tuesday was my last day as editor at the Peninsula Clarion. I’ve moved on to another job, but cleaning out my office had wandering down memory lane.
I started at the Clarion as a sported reporter just shy of 19 years ago, wandering in to the newsroom fresh off the Alcan — and following a three-day delay after my car broke down near Glennallen. They might’ve made the repairs faster, but the closest parts were in Seattle, and they had to be flown up to Anchorage, then put on a bus to get to the mechanic. It was my first taste of Alaska life.
My next taste of Alaska life was the drive from Anchorage down to Kenai. I did it on a beautiful, sunny day in early June, and I stopped at just about every pullout and overlook to take in the views. Then I walked into the Clarion newsroom, and immediately wondered what it was I had gotten myself into — mostly because when I checked out the breakroom, a press operator was at the table sharpening what, at that point in time, was the biggest knife I had even seen.
The newsroom actually doesn’t look too much different now than it did in 1999. There’s the same wood paneling on the walls, and while a few of the chairs have been replaced, the office furniture is pretty much the same.
But there’s a lot that has changed over the years — and it seems like it’s changing faster now than ever before.
When I started at the Clarion, there was just one computer in the newsroom connected to the internet. And we had just one email address for the whole staff.
If you needed to check something online, you had to wait for someone to go to lunch or clock out for the day — but that wasn’t really a big deal, because there was nothing online to check. If we wanted to send a document, we had access to a high-tech wonder called the fax machine. In fact, one of my greatest skills developed early in my career was the ability to decipher low-quality faxes of basketball box scores. There was a time when that was one of my most marketable assets.
When we were finished with our stories, we filed them to a server for the editor to access — provided your ethernet connection was working. I remember a long stretch where I had a floppy disk that I just handed to the editor, which was more reliable.
If we needed to file a story away from the office, the logistics were daunting. You had to plan ahead to be able to find a phone line — we didn’t refer to them as land lines back then, because what other types of phone lines were there?
And wifi? Never heard of it.
Once you plugged your laptop computer into a phone jack, you could dial directly into the server — IT security guys would freak if they saw someone doing that today. I don’t think we even had a password.
I remember the first time I covered Mount Marathon in Seward, we had arranged for me to use the phone in the office of the weekly newspaper there. One of the staffers let me in, and told me that if I needed to leave, just to prop the door open. I ducked out to go to the awards presentation, and when I got back, I found I had been locked out — but my laptop and car keys were still inside. I spent the next couple hours checking in from a pay phone in front of the SeaLife Center while the sports editor back at the Clarion went through the phone book, trying to track down someone in Seward who could let me back in. I’ll admit, a text message would have been convenient.
The thing that’s changed the most, of course, is the way in which readers see what we write. In 1999, we printed a newspaper, and that was it. The Clarion was still a couple of years away from having its own website, and a few more years after that before we had a digital camera. “Cut and paste” involved an Xacto knife and a waxer, and social media was what happened when reporters met up at the bar after deadline.
I’ll be honest, there’s not too much I miss about the good old days. Journalists today have so many more tools at their disposal, and as clunky as some of the programs may seem, they are so much more reliable than what we had to work with even 10 years ago.
I will miss my job at the Clarion — there’s an energy to putting out a paper that you don’t get anywhere else. But just in case I find myself feeling a little too nostalgic, I think I’ll see if I can find some old wood paneling to put up by my desk at home. And then I’ll try to send a file via dial-up internet connection, just to remind myself of what I’m not really missing.
Will Morrow is the former editor of the Peninsula Clarion.