Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Trip to the Past

While in San Francisco, we stopped in to the press clipping bureau, where Joe spent about 50 hours a week for seven years.
Maureen's jaw dropped when she entered, as it was just like we had stepped back in time. I was looking for Bob Cratchit to step out from behind a stack of newspapers.
Now think about this. In the last 25 years, the number of newspapers has dropped precipitously. The number of regular print paper readers has dropped even more so.
The very people who use clipping bureaus have lots more media to contend with. And, that monster on the block, Google, is always out there.
There were only four people there who worked with Joe, and the place had about half as many employees. Barbara, the secretary for the last 38 years, looked the same, and amazingly had her hair out of its formerly omnipresent bun. My boss, John, sounded the same, looked like himself, but 27 years older. He no longer drives to the office, instead driving to Bart, at 5:45 in the morning, opening the office at 6:15. He also closes the office, just after 6 in the evening, riding home on Bart, after the rush slows down.
I was tickled to introduce Maureen to Beth, still reading after I trained her 30 years ago. I had long told my kids, students, and anybody who would listen, the story of the employee, who was very intelligent, but not a native speaker of English. I would perpetually say things like "No sweat", to me clearly meaning that the something was easy to accomplish, and then have to explain to her these colloquialisms or slang expressions. I just told Maureen that Beth was the one always asking me what those expressions meant. Fortunately, Beth laughed, remembering those times. She also remember me seriously encouraging her to return to work six weeks after her son, now a handsome young professional in southern California, was born,
Who still uses a clipping bureau? Who ever used a clipping bureau? This company has six offices, all over the country. It was founded in 1888. Amazing. How many companies have been in business 120 years, and, frankly, still doing business the same way. John told Maureen and Suzanne the story of how he used to borrow a couple computers from a company next door when some VIP or competitor was going to visit the office, just so it would appear they were not living in the past, which they not only were, and still are. Having said that, I know that they were among the earliest adopters of fax technology because one of their customers, working in Washington, DC, in a position of what is now considerable power, wanted to see what the San Francisco papers were saying about her and she wanted to see it today. You don't get to be speaker of the house without being on top of things.
Apparently quite a few people still use a clipping bureau. Several much larger, national or international clipping bureaus are still doing well. There is even one in Omaha, but it makes most of its profit from monitoring local tv newscasts.
I do remember seeing a letter from Dustin Hoffman, handwritten, to the bureau in San Francisco. I went to the file to swipe it when I left in 1981, but it was not there. John probably took it home to show his wife.
Dustin used to maintain two accounts with us, with one set of clippings being sent to himself in NYC, with the other going to his Dad in a southern California retirement community. I always thought that was cool.
So maybe not nearly as many people need clipping bureaus, but there are some out there, and they are all a bit out of date. Piles of newspapers, people cutting out the stories(no scissors here, much too slow), other people reading papers, and lots of folding, sorting and distributing. I remember when we got our first postage meter, back in the late 70s. Up until one lady retired, she was much, much faster at doing what one person with a postage machine could do. When she left, then no one was faster at weighing, sealing, and affixing postage. Although it was cool to go to the post office and buy several hundred dollars worth of postage.
I'm not sure the bureau will be there if my next visit is ten years in the future. I'm not sure it'll be there if I visit next summer, but it was a good run whenever it ends.

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