My career in newspapers and
the emerging World Wide Web
I started working at age 15, was supporting myself by 17 and had the usual variety of jobs while I was in high school and college. At Kent State University I bounced around different majors before discovering journalism in my third year. I became deeply involved in the school newspaper and after graduating in 1979 got my first professional job.
Although I had experience at the college newspaper level, this was my first real newspaper job. I started as an intern in the summer of 1979 and then was kept on as a regular staffer afterwards.
My first beat was Sandusky police, firefighters and other public safety news so I made the rounds of the city police, county sheriff and related agencies. I also covered criminal trials, a labor strike and whatever else came along.
Later, I covered state and federal news (to the extent that a paper that size would). Mostly, I followed what our local legislators and congressman were doing and localized issues in the news.
The Register was an afternoon paper so our deadline was something like 11 a.m. and the first edition would be on our desks by about 1:00.
In retrospect, it was a good job in a nice part of the country (right on the water), but I was in my early 20s and didn't really appreciate the writing opportunity that the Register offered. When events in my personal life led me to Indianapolis, I decided I wanted to quit journalism, get a "regular job" and write on the side. This was, of course, a bad idea.
Move to Indianapolis (1983)
In Indianapolis, I found a part-time job as a front desk clerk at the Columbia Club (because I had previous experience working at a motel), then a full-time "library assistant" job at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (because I had worked at the university library all through college). I also worked for a time at a B. Dalton Bookstore at Lafayette Square Mall and by this point had figured out that "regular jobs" did not pay very well.
The museum was a beautiful and interesting place to work and I felt comfortable in a library setting so I began thinking of getting my master's degree in library science. And then, in late 1986, I heard about a job that combined my interest in journalism and libraries.
Indianapolis Star & News Library, Part 1 (1986-1993)
This was still the heyday of the newspaper business in terms of both business and journalism. Across the country in big cities and tiny towns, newspapers were thriving and employed thousands of writers, photographers, artists, researchers and others. Soon, things would change.
In those days, the Library itself had a staff of more than 20 and was focused on the two main tasks of archiving that day's newspaper and answering reference questions from the two newsrooms as they prepared their next editions. The archiving process involved composing an abstract of each article and typing variations of that abstract on multiple cross-reference cards to be filed in a bank of cabinets under various topics and names so that the article could be found again later. Reference questions were researched using the newspaper archive and from various books and encyclopedias on the Library's shelves.
I gravitated toward the research part of the job and became the chief reference librarian while I was working on my master's degree in library science. I was also on a "Future Media" committee set up by the publisher and I made a pitch to him in 1992 that we launch a dial-up "videotext" service that would be available only to newspaper subscribers. I don't know what might have happened with that idea because that's also when I got the job in Dayton.
Dayton Daily News (1993-2000)
I was hired as Library Director and for the first time was responsible for a departmental budget and a small staff of five people. The old clip filing system was unsophisticated compared to the Star/News, but by this point both papers were archiving the text of most recent stories electronically.
My managing editor, the late Max Jennings, made it part of my job to teach all reporters how to use the Internet, which at that time was primarily Usenet, along with a few awkward file transfer protocols such as Telnet and FTP. The most user-friendly interface had been, Gopher, a menu prompt system interface like a public library book database.
There really wasn't much useful content on the Internet, especially not compared to services such as Nexis and Dialog that we already used in the library. On those pay-per-use services, we could search the full texts of hundreds of thousands of professional news publications from all over the world. We could get medical journals and patent filings and doctoral dissertations. Through credit bureau services, we would do address history searches on anyone with a credit history, along with the names and records of probable relatives, past employers and neighbors.
In 1993, as I was teaching those classes, I became to learn about a new Internet protocol called HTML and a platform with the then-hyperbolic name of The World Wide Web. Instead of relying on menu selections, Web Site pages used hypertext links that could be any word on the page, which would appear as underlined blue text, that when clicked would to jump the user to a completely different page. And instead of having to download images to then view, users of Web Sites could see the image right there in the page inline with the text.
And most astonishingly, HTML was not some complex software language, but a simple set of a dozen tags that anyone could learn to use in an afternoon. I didn't care that there wasn't much content on The Web. I wanted to put it there.
I found that I could use a web browser to give reporters access to the library's text archive -- and also display the images associated with those stories. I also started building an encyclopedia of "fact files" in which I composed encyclopedia entries about local people and events that the newspaper had written about. I could like from a story to the encyclopedia file, and also cite the story as a source within the encyclopedia entry and link back to it.
All of this was only on the internal servers of DDN and not available to the public. The paper did create a website and began loading each day's onto it. I made a pitch to publisher and business manager to put something like my project on the public site. They were good guys and supportive, but I don't think they saw it as the most likely way for a newspaper to make money on the Internet. Sadly, they did not find such a way.