Kinetic Motion - Blog

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Memory in the Stillness of the Moment

I'm fascinated by forces that shape events, evolution and change. What is happening in the world where I've made my career right now prompted me to write this, which appeared in The Post this morning.

The silence was overwhelming.
On deadline, the vast newsroom always had produced a cacophony. Typewriter keys pounded like an orchestra of percussionists until the volume swelled to fill the room. Copy boys thundered around to collect stories from reporters who bellowed "Copy, copy, dammit!" as they ripped the last sheet from their typewriters.
I was nightside, arriving just past the crescendo each evening to inherit one of the desks in a row called the rewrite bank. I began my shift by emptying the ashtrays filled by men who had just headed home. They smoked cigars.
Then one day modern times arrived. Computers. With their keys nearly silent to the touch, a forever quiet fell over the newsroom.
The cigars and the men who smoked them departed with the typewriters. They wanted no part of these new machines.
They fled from change that continued in the years that followed. Women and faces of all races became common in the newsroom. Ashtrays and liquor bottles that inhabited many a desk drawer disappeared. Televisions were hung from the ceilings, and when all-news cable came along, they were left on a lot more. Carpeting replaced linoleum, erasing even the come-and-go of shoe leather, but by then the clatter of rushing copy boys was gone, too. Finally, only the TV pierced the silence. But a clicker, and a mute button, restored quiet.
Modern times are with us, still. At its dawn, the Internet was heralded as "the information superhighway," but even then few knew it would carry more traffic than all the world's roads combined. Appetite is down for a newspaper that lands with a thunk in the driveway each morning, so newsrooms that produce the printed word are shrinking.
About 100 people are leaving The Washington Post's newsroom this spring. It has been moments like this, and not the passage of years or a particular birthday or a hard death, that draw blood when it comes to reminding that life moves on apace.
Mike Ruane, who was another kid on that rewrite bank 30 years ago, has remained. Susan Levine, whose daughter has gone from birth to college in the time we've worked together, has left. Rick Weiss, the superb science writer, no longer will sit across the desk divide. Tom Ricks, who knows more about the Pentagon than the generals, is packing it in. Stephen Hunter, a movie critic as good as they get, is going, too.
The silence is overwhelming.
This time it is not a silence of machinery but one of many voices that shaped my world -- and yours.
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