From typewriter to blog

One of the fondest memories about my first newspaper job back in 1986 was the clattering noise of typewriter keys as journalists, cigarettes dangling from their lips, smoke curling up to the ceiling, typing away ahead of deadline.

I was mesmerised by the sight, envisioning myself as one of these wordsmiths. Within a few months, I had become one of the crowd, mastering the art of typing at a furious pace, thanks to my sports editor who would stand threateningly over my shoulder. As soon as I finished typing the intro, he would rip the page away (it was called a folio) and had it rushed downstairs to the typesetters. Each folio could accommodate only one paragraph, which then forced the writer to remember the preceding paragraph so he could continue to write an intelligible story. There was no time for revising and polishing. You had to hit the ground running and roll with the punches. That, of course, taught one how to type fast and accurately. But it also taught you precision. You had to say exactly what you wanted to say.

But a few months later, the company succumbed to the march of times, and started introducing computers. The word “computer” was so scary that the old guard avoided computer classes at all costs. Initially, the news editor begged them, then he cajoled them and, finally, bowing to management pressure himself, had to threaten them with disciplinary measures.

Computers made sense because they were fast, and could store information to be retrieved at the user’s leisure. Also, computers – at least from the bean counter’s point of view – also made money sense in that through their introduction to the newspaper, there would be no need for typesetters.

But many members of the old guard simply didn’t trust the darn monsters.

In fact, the old guards’ fears and reservations were confirmed when many of them, using these complicated soulless monsters under duress, started losing their files – with deadline looming. I sometimes suspected that the writers themselves were party to acts of sabotage, in a desperate attempt to be rid of computers and allowed to rejoin their beloved typewriters.

But there were also funny scenes where you would see a guy writing his story in handwriting, then transferring it into the computer. It was a sheer waste of time, but the thinking was that if, at least, you’ve written the story in handwriting, if the bloody computer monster started playing tricks with you and “swallowed” your story, you could always revert to your handwritten piece – hahaha, gotcha Mr. Computer Monster!

With the advent of computers the fastest writers in the office started typing daintily like shy ladies. They seemed to be scared that they would break the keyboard which looked oh-so-fragile and vulnerable.

Although we had also been trained on typewriters at journalism school, many of us youngsters took to the computer with alacrity.

Over the years the computer has evolved. When the internet was introduced, there was a lot of resistance, with many editors and other head honchos at media organisations advising their staff not to rely too heavily on the internet as a research tool. Today, that statement sounds so yesterday.

The evolution of the internet has been so furious that many of us woke so late to the blog. A friend of mine, who is a marketer, told me early this year that he had started a blog. I shrugged his comment away, and thought, if a marketer can have a blog, then maybe, I of the superior species, a Writer with a capital W, did not have to bother finding out how a blog operated.

Only recently, with the hullabaloo caused by David Bullard, who dissed bloggers in his column, did I sit down to find out how it worked. And I don’t regret. It’s fun; it’s fast; it’s interactive. I think blogging is bringing more readers to our newspapers and magazines, as these institutions are offering the blogging platform in the first place.

I have been thinking about starting a blog myself, but pride is preventing me from taking the plunge. Everyone will say, Ah, this fellow Fred Khumalo, is so unoriginal; why does he have to always follow in the footsteps of Bullard?

Well, I graduated from typewriters, so anything is possible.

< i> Fred Khumalo is a Sunday Times columnist and award-winning novelist

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Fred Khumalo
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