Life Essay: Newspapers

December 2021

It was tradition at my house while I was growing up that the first person who got up retrieved the morning paper off the front porch, no matter what the weather. And then turned up the furnace!

Sure, I read the comics. Peanuts, Blonde and Smilin’ Jack were my favorites. I always read the front page, the Metro section front page and then scanned the business page headlines before diving into the “agate” type of the New York Stock exchange page to see how Monsanto, Bell & Howell and Tektronix traded the previous day. Later, I placed ads in the classifieds to sell cars and looked there to buy them.

My brother Chris had the first paper route, delivering the Oregon Journal in the afternoon in the far corner of Sellwood, later landing the route whose delivery area surrounded our house. Being an early bird, he preferred delivering the morning Oregonian. The printed papers arrived at the local “station,” which was the central distribution office for the zip code. A “spotter” would count out papers for each route and drop the heavy bundles of papers on our front porch between 3 and 4 AM; I can still hear the sound of the bundles dropped on the porch.

During the summer of 1971, I met with the station manager to put my name in for a route of my own; I was inclined to deliver the afternoon Oregon Journal, which also meant I’d be delivering the Sunday Oregonian once a week in the early morning hours too. As a trial, I “subbed” a route for a kid who was going to be away for a month. Easy peezy, riding my trusty 20-inch “sting ray” bike. Shortly afterward, I was assigned to an awful route the included delivering to house boats beneath the Sellwood Bridge on “Watery Lane.” The hill up from the river was quite steep.

To make matters worse, no one paid their bills when I went around to collect the monthly subscription. When you took on a paper route, you became an independent contractor. You bought your newspapers and received a bill each month for all the papers you bought that month at a reduced rate, the difference becoming your profit. We had two-part receipt books in which we wrote the address and the monthly subscription amount on about the 25th of the month. Then I knocked on doors to “collect.” This first route I barely collected enough to pay the bill, with no profit for the month’s work.

I gave up on this route a month or two later when route 619 came available. Its boundary was a block away from home. There were five long streets with hills, a dog that came out to retrieve the paper in her mouth, and apartments across Crystal Springs Creek that flowed from nearby Westmoreland Park—complete with ducks. I delivered over 100 daily papers — six days a week — that I picked up at the Station, rolled with a rubber band and stuffed into a canvas bag that hung from my bike handle bars. I delivered over 80 Sunday Oregonians, which were delivered to my house at the same 3-4 AM Sunday. I completely wore out my first bike and bought a second, better 20-incher that served me well, paid for from my route profit. I earned $50-60 a month — huge bucks in the early 70s for a 12-year-old. I could collect my bill in a single night, then collect the stragglers for my profit, but I never lost money.

Fortunately for me, dad was sympathetic to bad weather deliveries on Sunday. He drove me around my route several Sundays during a typical Oregon snow fall; he didn’t seem to mind going up and down the neighborhood hills, and I was thankful not to be in the elements in the early morning. I think about the benevolence of my dad when I drive to pick up my daughter from work: it must either be karma or paying forward.

Afternoon deliveries were a whole different weather matter: I rode in the heat, the sunshine, driving rain and snow. My hands were often numb after winter days, despite gloves. Rainy days I came home thoroughly soaked from the edge of my coat down to my shoes. But Sunday mornings were so serene: I listened for the first birds singing right before sunrise; I saw many sunrises behind the gray silhouette of Mt. Hood. I was usually home on Sundays before 6 AM. Sometimes I stayed up and made pancakes.

My friend Kelly secured the Journal route around our houses directly north of my route. My friend Bill chose to deliver the Oregonian, pulling a wagon around the blocks surrounding his house two routes north of Kelly’s route.

One of the side benefits of the newspaper delivery was the opportunity to win trips and prizes for soliciting new subscriptions to either the Oregonian or the Journal papers.

Who wouldn’t want to go to Disneyland? The first trip I was aware of was to Disneyland – the Oregonian would provide transportation to and from (on chartered buses), hotel accommodations in the Disneyland Hotel (shared with three others in two beds) and tickets for two days in the park. Only 105 points, which translated into 3 points for a daily and Sunday subscription, two points for daily-only, and one point for Sunday-only.

At the launch of this first trip sales campaign in late 1971 or 1972, there was a pre-sale party at the newspaper station at which we were “inspired” by the area sales manager, then trucked to different parts of the station district to go door to door in the dark of night. Bill and maybe Kelly attended. Bill cut his sales teeth that night and the following weekend by selling enough subscriptions to earn the trip! Unfortunately, Bill’s parents would not allow Bill to attend. Later, Kelly would “buy” points, admitting he was not much of a sales person, and traveled with me.

For me, the first night was not a successful hustle, but I later realized that people in houses had already decided to subscribe or not, but with turnover in apartments, I would head out to large complexes on Saturdays when people typically moved in to sign them up before they signed themselves up. I also learned to not try to kill myself selling, but rather set goals of three points a day. If I sold six points, I could take a day off, or get to the goal faster. I sold enough points in less than 30 days for the trip.

The trip itself was as fascinating as it was long. We left downtown Portland in the afternoon I think, and drove straight down I-5 to LA. But we had to be on our best behavior and were threatened with certain hardships should we misbehave; I think we were even told we were “ambassadors” for Portland and the Oregonian. However, during our first break in Eugene, one of the “ambassadors” stole silverware from the bus depot dining room and was promptly put on a bus back to Portland. This poor individual was made an example of bad behavior and the swift repercussions.

I remember stopping in Sacramento around 12:30 AM to change drivers, seeing the state capitol basked in streetlights, and then taking a break right before Grapevine about sunrise, where I remember reading a newspaper front page announcing the death of some prominent figure. As we down from the northern pass, we drove through the very eerie remains of the 1971 Los Angeles earthquake, which left a number of overpasses still in the median.

We were delivered to the Disneyland Hotel by about 9:00 AM, given our room numbers, keys and the first day tickets. We were told to be back in our room by 11:00 pm when we would be checked on and given the next day tickets. I remember sitting in the a hotel restaurant eating breakfast, ordering fresh (and expensive!) orange juice, all the while feeling concerned about my cash flow over the next few days, measured out in travelers cheques.

But we survived and had fun! Several classmates and I hung around each other, riding the Autopia ride over and over and over – driving go-carts was great fun! Rumor was that others ditched Disneyland and hoped on buses at the front of the hotel to go to Knots Berry Farm for the day, specifically verboten. I hardly remember the bus ride back, except that it was another long adventure. The long bus rides would change my outlook on traveling on my last trip.

The following year was a two-day trip to San Francisco, which came with some free time the second afternoon to roam the city. Who lets 12, 13, 14 year-olds out to roam a major city without parents? The following year was another trip to Disneyland, for which I hustled still more subscriptions. In 1974, Spokane hosted the World’s Fair, and the Oregonian offered a trip, for which I sold the necessary points. This time, I was done riding on a bus for hours and hours. I rode the bus to Spokane, but used my newspaper profits to buy my first-ever plane flight from Spokane to Portland. I was done riding long bus rides, done selling, done delivering.

Later in high school, I worked on the yearbook as an advertising sales person and page designer. I had had a newspaper/magazine layout class from the Yearbook advisor, so I was ready to go. Ads were pictures at local businesses whose ad was really a sponsorship; a caption was added. The only creativity was the page layout, and that was very little.

It wasn’t until my freshman year at Lewis & Clark that I worked on my first newspaper production gig doing “paste-up” for the Pioneer Log. Paste-up was the physical layout of the newspaper pages. Articles were keyboarded into a typesetting machine – the college owned a Verityper – and the articles were saved to an eight inch floppy disk. When ready, the machine exposed a 10-inch-wide roll of film, one letter at a time at very high speeds – a 200-400 word article might take 2-3 minutes. The exposed paper was transferred to a light tight case; an edge of the exposed paper was fed into a developer bath, much like a glossy picture, then hung to dry for a few minutes.

We used double-paged layout sheets that were full size. The printed grid was in “non-repro” blue, a color that didn’t show up in the printing plate negatives. The typeset copy was to size and in the specific font we used. The output typeset sheet would be the entire length of the article in a preset column width. The production person would trim the type column on each side, then run the narrow column through the waxer, which applied a thin coat of wax to the back side as an adhesive. Anything waxed and positioned on the layout pages could be easily repositioned.

Photos were printed with a screen pattern of “halftone” dots, which allowed the press to print the picture, now a series of small black dots. These were trimmed to fit the layout and waxed as well. Any kind of line “art” was either photocopied and waxed or we used a Photo Mechanical Transfer or “PMT” that allowed for resizing and exposure on the same type of film as the typeset copy.

Our primary tools were rulers, the trusty X-Acto with a number 11 blade and a T-square that ensured the copy was aligned correctly with the grid. We used a separate room in the office for layout on three large drafting tables.

I worked on the paper my freshman year (as well as the radio station). By mid-year, I was applying to Boston University to study for a year in an intensive media program, but could not convince Boston to waive the freshman requirements, which would have taken all year to complete. Later that summer I swiveled: I applied to University of Oregon, which wasn’t interested in enforcing freshman requirements; I was able to spend the majority of the classes in the Journalism School.

When I returned to LC in fall of 1980, I gravitated back to the Log. The Editor-In-Chief at the time was Michael, but he bailed LC at the end of the quarter. The paper’s advisor, Dick Hoyt, wanted me to co-edit with a sophomore, Jonathan, but I was not sure about Jonathan’s work ethic and decided to pass on the role.

By spring term, I was ready to take on the editor role in my senior year. After being selected by a media committee, I started working on a style guide, which I typed in the Log office.

I had fun as editor, making sure the paper covered important topics such as the theft of a sculpture and the incoming college President. But by year end, I was beat and we partied on our last Tuesday night of production with a keg in the layout room. We held a party at one of the on-campus restaurants. We also left the paper with a huge ad revenue windfall: our business manager made sure ever advertiser paid. I directed the paper to buy the college a PMT camera for the campus print shop.

A year after graduation, I took a job in 1983 as production “manager” for the Clackamas County Review, a weekly suburban tabloid newspaper, doing paste-up and building ads. There were three ad sales people, the editor and a reporter who was also the photographer, plus me and the publisher, Bert Casey, a very conservative individual who was also computer savvy, owning an Osborne personal computer that could, with some added coding, go directly to typeset copy on the paper’s Compugraphic typesetter. Bert was a bit crazy, but I got paid regularly just below the poverty level for a family of four.

Fortunately, a former ad salesperson, who had jumped ship from the Review and joined This Week Magazine, contacted me to tell me it was a better place to work. I applied and joined RFD Publications, the publisher of This Week Magazine, a weekly “shopper” meaning it was a newspaper in name only; it was more of a wrapper around major retailer advertising sections, including those of Fred Meyer, Safeway, Thriftway, Payless Drugs, and others. The content was mostly subscription columns, recipes and comics, including the first local publication of a single panel comic called “The Far Side” by Gary Larson.

In the newspaper business, Tuesday was called Food Day, when the food ads and recipes were at their peak. This Week arrived on Tuesdays in everyone’s mail, at great cost to the daily paper, the OregonianThis Week had snatched the highest revenue advertising accounts away from the big O.

Joining RFD, which was really a commercial printer for the above advertisers, meant cutting one’s teeth doing 40 hours of paste-up. At first, I was hired for the graveyard shift – four 10-hour days beginning on Tuesday at 8 pm, ending at 6:30 am on Saturday morning. I eventually moved to a noon to 10 pm shift. While working four days a week had its benefits, the days (or nights) were long. It was hard to adjust to working all night.

Concetta and I had been dating since my time at the Review. My graveyard shifts were during her senior year at Lewis & Clark; she would come to RFD during my lunch hour sometime around midnight as a study break. Later, I would drop by the house she lived in off campus, knocking on the window and cuddling with her before she went to class.

By the time Concetta had been in her first year of graduate school in Salem, I was getting itchy feet for additional schooling, setting my sites on a two-year hiatus to San Francisco (see “Sojourn to San Francisco for more details).

When I returned from San Francisco, I was able to pick back up at the Fred Meyers ad department, doing production on the Home Improvement Center ads, later moving up to lead designer. I was part of the early adoption of Macintosh computers for design; fortunately I had borrowed one from a friend and acquainted myself to all things Mac OS by reading and trying each description in the manual over a month of evenings.

Macs weren’t ready for direct typesetting, although we tested it from time to time with small “ROP” display ads. While at Freddy’s, I received in the mail a small 400K disk that had a demo for a new program, Adobe Illustrator. I had no idea how important the Adobe programs would be; I was using a software program called PageMaker at Freddy’s. Freddy’s was a large account for a fledgling PC store, which invited Freddy’s Mac users to an afternoon on the Portland Spirit ship on which I met the founder of Aldus Corporation, the software company that wrote PageMaker; its founder Paul Brainerd coined the phrase “desktop publishing” and we were living it at Freddy’s.

But I was over newspapers, ad design and paste-up. Fortunately, I didn’t think additional schooling was the answer. I was ready to make a significant move to either corporate marketing or an advertising agency. In 1988, I jumped the newspaper ship and into corporate marketing at PacifiCorp, thinking I would never look back.

But my experience with newspapers would come in handy after I joined Grant Thornton in 2004. As a way to promote the expertise of the partners and managers, I sought ways to increase visibility in the local Portland Business JournalDaily Journal of Commerce, any other newsletter that made sense and perhaps the Big O.

After getting the green light to hire a public relations firm, we set out to investigate editorial calendars and tried to match specialties with upcoming sections or an issue focus. I was able to refine my ability to “pitch” an article before it was written. I invited two managers to have coffee with me and two Journal reporters, which got the ball rolling.

Many articles were written by the professionals, but Grant Thornton had a lot of content on audit and tax specialties; I was able take content and fashion it into a compelling article. In one case, I was able to get the national CFO survey culled to West Coast responses, comparing and contrasting the national and reginal viewpoints and submitting for publication in the Journal’s annual CFO of the year section. I was able to get a tax season article published as a business section cover in the Oregonian!

While with Reinisch Wilson Weier, I was able to pitch the expertise of one attorney who specialized in OSHA-related defense, resulting in two articles in back-to-back issues of the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce. I then pitched an article to the Washington Bar Association journal, getting a article not only published, but featured as a cover story. But I wasn’t laying out the pages in these publications, thankfully, but I still sometimes designed an ad (electronically) to go with a sponsorship.

Paste-up would die off as computer software utilized “WYSWYG” tools (What You See is What You Get). I produced a freelance brochure completely on the Mac in PageMaker while I was still at Freddy’s; the marketing job at PacifiCorp required Mac experience. I would buy my first Mac shortly after leaving Freddy’s as well. Printed newspapers would face pressure from the internet as soon as 15 years after I left Freddy’s. The Oregonian was reduced to a tabloid-size in order to survive, the Journal long since silenced.

There were no tea leaves to read, but I was fortunate to be ahead of the changes and to move on before I was moved out.

I would not be that lucky in corporate marketing.