Ink in her soul

Written by Dorothy J. (Swart) Fleshman May 22, 2009 01:33 pm

Dear Diary,

Sitting in my car in front of The Observer office today, lying in wait for Editor/Publisher Ted Kramer’s arrival back from lunch, I had a thrill from long ago.

An old man was shuffling his way towards the box in front of the newspaper office to get his daily news in print. As he did so, an employee of The Observer approached from another direction with an armload of the day’s papers to make them available to the public as they inserted their coins in the box.

“The paper has gone to press,” I thought.

Or, was it being “put to bed” when they started up that mechanical genius called a press that almost made the building tremble?

Maybe it was “Hot off the press.”

However we used to say it, the rolls of white paper had their imprint, the sheets had been cut and assembled, the ink was dried and folded for the convenience of the reader, and here was the latest edition reporting on the world beyond us and closer to home in Northeastern Oregon through its delivery by carrier, mail or hand.

It had been a long time since I had been a real part of the newspaper scene, but the ink in my soul hadn’t yet run out of my aging body and I couldn’t help reacting to what I had just witnessed.

The little man and the newspaperman exchanged pleasantries in the quiet of a sunny day and then they went about their own ways, having given and received. I felt the man knew the importance of what he held in his hands, for he seemed to be of my generation, white of hair and affected gait.

Maybe the news of the moment wasn’t earthshaking that called for an EXTRA edition, but he held it in his hands as though it were. And, neither could he refrain from getting a little peek at the front page as he moved away, unwilling to wait for an easy chair or a quiet room.

What had just transpired to excite something within me took me back to the days when reporters sat before an old typewriter and put together a story of an event’s happenings from a few scribbled notes.

As a novice reporter right out of high school, hired by a Mr. Frank Schiro in 1944, the Observer building was at 1710 Sixth St. near Washington Avenue. It was hard to believe that he would add me to the staff, but I felt I must be on my way to being a future editor some day.

There was a lot to learn on a daily newspaper that hadn’t come across in journalism class. That was quickly obvious, but I remember how kind the other newsroom personnel treated me and guided me.

My first stay lasted only through the summer because The Observer then gave me a $75 scholarship at Eastern Oregon State College on the hill to pursue my journalistic bent. As I recall, it paid my first year tuition with my folks picking up expenses for textbooks and other needs. It was a wonderful year and gave me a chance to grow and mature.

Over the years my pathway kept leading back to The Observer, with a two-year sidetrack to the weekly Eastern Oregon Review, now long out of print.

At both places I heard the striking of the typewriters, ringing of the phones, important movements of the reporters coming and going.

Even the sound of the Linotype machines with the typesetters at work and the tinkling of the metal letters falling into place still rings in my ears as the aura of ink pervades my nostrils. The rumble of the mammoth presses when the day’s news was locked in place gave the clue that today’s work had ended but tomorrow’s had already begun.

All of this flashed through my mind as I sat that brief time in my car watching the exchange between the provider and the recipient in front of the newspaper office. I thought how valuable was the printed word placed in the hands of all citizens, to all generations.

As an octogenarian, it could be viewed as old-fashioned, out-of-date, out-of-step with the times; however, important as the electronic age has become, our freedom of the press must be protected, encouraged, supported.

Make fun as we do of the mistakes that crop up, the events that can’t be covered because of lack of staff, we must not lose the freedom of the written word.

Only with knowledge can we protect what was given to us at great sacrifice by our founding fathers and those who fought for this unspeakable gift.

Freedom of the press.

Let the presses roll.

The excitement of Ted’s offer to contribute once again to The Observer filled my being.

I smiled all the way home.

Thank you, Ted.


Veteran newspaperwoman Dorothy Fleshman is a La Grande native who will write “Dory’s Diary’’ on a regular basis for The Observer.