Oh, those modern marvels

Published 11:39 am Saturday, June 27, 2009

Technology is a beautiful thing…when it works properly.

Several dozen years ago, newspapers functioned thanks in large part to two simple things: Lead-type letters and, later, wax.

The veterans of journalism recall these days with a healthy mixture of nostalgia and frustration. In the old days, one little mistake – maybe having a letter out of place – would mean having to remake the entire page.

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In 2009, mistakes are easily corrected with a few keystrokes or the swoop of a mouse. In all, a process that only 20 years ago took several minutes now only takes a few seconds.

However, with innovation comes new frustration.

Last Friday night, at exactly 10:15 p.m. – I’ll have that time burned in my memory forever – the server at the Demopolis Times suffered a violent and untimely death.

The server is where we store all our information; all the ads we run, all the stories we write and all the photos and news pages we have. Our server going down is the equivalent of Peyton Manning losing his left leg: We can still get our job done, but it’s a lot harder and it’s not pretty.

Those of you who saw our Saturday newspaper last week likely noticed that some of the smaller elements were a little different.

That wasn’t a change we made on purpose.

Wednesday’s newspaper was much closer to being back on track and this edition, for the most part, is back in line with what our readers and advertisers have come to expect.

We spent all day last Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday rebuilding what information was lost, rewriting stories and setting up photos we had previously taken.

That includes recomposing an entire magazine that will be available next week and searching up until the last possible second Sunday evening to find a new cover shot as the original cover lie dead in the coffin that was our server.

At industry functions, I enjoy having the newspaper old-timers give me a hard time about how computers have made this job so much easier.

Their tales of late-night typesetting and having to tear an entire page down to get a last-minute photo in are both riveting and funny.

In the 10 years I’ve been in this business, technology has changed a lot and, when working properly, it’s all been for the better.

But last Friday night afforded me two opportunities: 1) It shows just how much work a small group of people can accomplish when the chips are down. 2) It gave me a great war story to tell at industry get-togethers when I’m a newspaper old-timer.