Back many years ago (19 to be precise), I started my job with The Baltimore Sun’s photo department. This was back in the days when there was still an Evening Sun, photographs were printed in a darkroom and the zoned sections of the paper were tabloids. (Of course, during my years at The Sun the zoned sections went from tabloid to broadsheet, from broadsheet to tabloid and from tabloid back to broadsheet again. I make no predictions about what format they’ll be in by the time you read this.)
I was excited to be working for The Sun because this was the newspaper I had grown up with. It’s where I read about the election of John F. Kennedy to the presidency of the United States. It’s where I read about his tragic death a few years later. And it’s where I followed the adventures of Winnie Winkle, Moon Mullins and Dondi, and waited each fall to see how Lucy would manage to trick Charlie Brown into trying to kick that football. (After I left for college, my father would clip out that strip each year and send it to me just to make sure I didn’t miss it.)
After I had been at The Sun for a few years, I received a wonderful Christmas present from an editor I had worked with at another paper. In an antique store, she had found an old wooden ruler that had obviously spent the majority of its life at The Sun. ‘‘Everything in Baltimore Revolves Around The Sun – Morning, Evening, Sunday’’ it read on the front. Column measures were marked in red (eight columns – it boggles the mind), and in addition to inches it had measures for picas, points and agate. It carried the dirt left by many years of use by long-gone editors, who would have used it to size photographs and draw up dummies. (See the photograph. A thousand words and all that.)
Of course, this lovely artifact needed to return to its original home, so after receiving it I brought it in to work. Occasionally, I would take it out of my desk
to measure something, but most of the time it sat in a drawer. As years went by, it moved farther and farther down to the bottom of that drawer.
Newspapers were changing. Photographs no longer needed to be sized, as film gave way to digital technology. Pages were assembled on computer screens, and the computer applications gave all the measurements that were needed.
Then came April 2009. I was laid off along with many others – page designers, copy editors, photographers and more. It was a sad job to pack up the contents of my desk into cardboard boxes as I prepared to leave The Sun newsroom for the last time. And then at the bottom of the last drawer I found the old wooden ruler. My first instinct was to leave it there. Let it stay in the newsroom where it belonged.
Except it didn’t really belong there anymore. All of its functions had long since been taken over by computers. The ruler was now merely a curiosity – a relic from an era in newspapers that was now gone.
Things evolve. The book I’m reading is not chiseled onto stone tablets, and I don’t unroll a papyrus scroll to read my magazine. One day soon the newspaper I read (The Sun, of course) will no longer be printed on dead trees. It will be composed of pixels on my monitor screen. Things evolve.
And now the ruler’s function has evolved, too. It has started a new life with some new and varied duties. It’s measured the depth of holes for planting flower bulbs, marked off stride lengths for calibrating a pedometer and measured fabric for my niece’s Halloween costume. All in all, a better life I think than remaining in a newsroom where it had become obsolete. Thomas Wolfe got it right – you can’t return to a home where you are no longer needed, but with a little luck you can find a new home and a whole new life. This is what I wish for all my Sun colleagues and myself. May the days to come find us all in a place where we can find happiness and fulfillment. ☀