Newsroom settings change, but goals don’t

I’m thinking about newsrooms today. I’m looking around me at a cavernous gray chamber that has been stripped of 23 years of personality. Twenty-three years of iconic news photos. Twenty-three years of baby, family and vacation pictures. Twenty-three years of signs and posters. Twenty-three years of desks groaning under stacks of outdated newspapers, knickknack displays, candy jars, books, award plaques, piles of meeting agendas, legal pads, fat manila file folders, pens, pins, stuffed toys, sticky notes, pet calendars, humor calendars, word calendars, travel calendars and assorted other sentimental sediments as interesting and varied as the individuals who work here creating a new news product from scratch every day.

All gone now, revealing this soft, inoffensive pallor

I have had the pleasure of working in many newsrooms over the course of, egad, 43 years in journalism. It’s hard not to think of them now. I worked as a one-man band in the cramped back end of a radio station’s converted mobile home/broadcast studio, a wire-service teletype machine clattering away amid the metallic staccatos from a police radio and the dulcet timbres from overhead monitors of network news anchors, Paul Harvey, farm service reports and ’70s pop music. I typed stories onto coarse brown sheets of paper slathered with glue to hold them together in a 20- by 20-foot room with eight other smokers and windows so gummed with nicotine you could scratch your initials into the brown goo with your fingernails. I traded that for what seemed a vast collection of orange cubicles, then a dark alcove in a virtual strip mall, then the Daily Herald’s previous cramped assembly of hulking steel desks encased in cinder-block walls in downtown Arlington Heights.

It was an exciting change when we left those drab quarters and moved into this polished, modern office setting next to the expressway in 1996. The feel has not been so effervescent in recent years, as the spaces between paper-stuffed cubicles widened and the muted tapping of plastic computer keyboards that makes you think of hamster toenails has replaced the cacophony of typewriter keys, teletype clatter, emergency radios and voices raised to be heard in the din.

Now, we move again. To a new space only a few blocks away, where I’m sure we will begin again accumulating new detritus of our lives and trade. I guess I have to embrace the notion that I won’t get to see another 23 years of it, but I’ll do what I can in the years that remain for me. It occurs to me as I contemplate all these varied settings that, for all the diversity of workplaces I’ve enjoyed, the work itself has changed little. It’s still the daily wonder of working shoulder to shoulder with intelligent, passionate, determined colleagues and engaging in the grit of life, whether it be heart-pounding flush of a local drama on deadline or the focused intensity of a detailed political discussion. It’s all exciting — or most of it anyway. It is the very opposite of fake.

Our transition will occur in earnest over the weekend. It is not just a newsroom that moves, of course. It is our entire non-press team — advertising, customer service, accounting, administration, computers and more. Relocating such a complicated operation is no mean feat, but we are doing all we can to prepare in advance, to work from remote locations and to stay in touch. It will be a few days of mild disruption, but we’ll still produce your paper every day, our e-edition will be available and we’ll continuously update our website, www.dailyherald.com. You won’t be able to reach us by phone on Sunday, but on Saturday, customer service will be available from 7 a.m. until noon to help with delivery issues, our obituary desk will be open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and our automated phone system will be available until 11 p.m.

On Monday, we will resume as normal just across Arlington Heights Road in a new location where we each will begin anew imprinting on the space around us the minutiae of our individual lives while reporting the details of the significant events and issues that help shape yours. Thank you for your patience and your indulgence.

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