Pat Stephens: 51 Years at The Post

Pat Stephens in her office at PBNI 08-29-2008Pat Stephens started at Palm Beach Newspapers in 1965, the year I graduated from Cape Girardeau Central High School. My first newspaper photo was published April 18, 1963, so I started in the ink-slinging business a little before her. The main difference is that I took a buyout in the fall of 2008 and put the newspaper business behind me.

Two days before I walked out the door for the last time, I wandered the building shooting pictures of the people who were special to me. Pat was at the top of the list.

Pat, 69, was on The Post’s payroll right up until the day she died, Thursday, April 7, 2016. That’s 51 years working for the same company. In contrast, I passed through nine papers (counting high school and college pubs) in four states in 45 years.

Post reporter Sonja Isger wrote an excellent obituary that Pat would have thought was “too much.” [I hope it doesn’t get trapped behind the paper’s paywall.]

The headline was appropriate: “Remembering The Post’s Constant Caretaker.” She was one of those unsung heroes the public never knew about, but was a big reason your paper hit the stoop in the morning. Reporting, writing and editing the paper is all well and good, but if the ink doesn’t get squirted on the toilet paper, it doesn’t matter.

An early member of the 20-Year Club

PBNI 20-Year Club members 08-17-2008She started in the production department back in the days of hot type, and shepherded it though several confusing iterations of publishing and pagination systems.

Pat shows up in the middle of the middle column listing the earliest members of the Twenty Year Service Club. Click on this, or any of the photos, to make them larger.

Pat became office Mac expert

Pat Stephens in her office at PBNI 08-29-2008When the paper transitioned from manual to electric typewriters; from hot type to cold type and then to computer-output pages, Pat went along with the ride. The editorial and advertising systems were on Macs, and she became the office expert on them.

As a PC guy, I would mock Macintosh computers (Know why a Mac mouse has only one button? It’s because that’s as high as a Mac user can count.), but never to Pat. It just wouldn’t have been right. She took pride in her equipment.

She loved her one-eyed horse

Pat Stephens in her office at PBNI 08-29-2008She loved her aging, one-eyed horse, Baxter, and would talk about him often when things were quiet.

Winner of the Purple Cow

Pat Stephens in her office at PBNI 08-29-2008Her hard work won her the company’s Purple Cow award, displayed proudly on her bookcase.

I worked a lot of long hours at weird times, but I don’t think I was ever in the building when Pat wasn’t. If some department manager (usually a new hire with all the answers) would decide that all the world’s problems could be solved by shuffling workers from one cube to another, Pat would show up with her gray rolling cart to swap pieces-parts and huge, 24-inch monitors that were so big that you could put four wheels on them and they’d pass for Volkswagens.

At times like this, she might be heard uttering her opinion of such tomfoolery, but then she would mock-slap her face twisting her head from the “force” of the blow.

The pressure relief valve

Pat Stephens in her office at PBNI 08-29-2008Every paper I worked for had one place and one person you could visit when the pressure lid was about to blow off the cooker. Judy Crow’s morgue was that place at The Missourian. (In these more sensitive times, the morgue has been rebranded “the library.”)

Pat’s office was the relief valve at The Post. Pat would listen patiently as you blew off steam, nodding appropriately at the right times, all the time plying you with her ever-full candy dish. Her office was full of plush animals and pictures of horses and wildlife that would have been kitschy in any other context, but were oddly comforting in Pat’s Place.

I always liked this shot of Pat’s menagerie keeping an eye on her.

Heaven’s candy jars will be full

Pat Stephens in her office at PBNI 08-29-2008Pat Stephens was probably one of the last generation that could go to work at a newspaper right out of high school and stay at the same place for 51 years. I am proud to have been her colleague and her friend. Heaven will be a better place now that there is someone there to ride the horses and keep the candy jars full.

Palm Beach Post Turns 100

Palm Beach Post - America's Fastest Growing Major Daily Newspaper 09-30-1988The Palm Beach Post is giving itself an extended pat on the back for surviving 100 years. I logged about 35 years there, stretching from the early 1970s until I took a buyout in 2008. I congratulate the publication on surviving, even if it’s a shadow of its former self. It was billed as “America’s Fastest Growing Major Daily Newspaper” on a coffee mug dated September 30, 1988.

A recent house ad bragged that “The Post’s newsroom has more than 100+ Journalists…” (They must have laid off the copy editor who would have known that “more than” and “100+” is redundant.) In 2007, the newsroom had three times that many staffers, but, who’s counting?

Clatter, clutter and ringing of bells

Palm Beach Post newsroom Election Night 1976Here’s what election night looked like in 1976, an era when reporters used typewriters (mostly manual), election results arrived by telephone and were tabulated by hand by scowling reporters and editors keeping an eye on the deadline clock. News came in on a bank of wire service teletypes with much clatter, clutter and ringing of bells.

REAL cut ‘n’ paste

Palm Beach Post newsroom Election Night 1976You can see glue bottles scattered all over the newsroom, from an era where “cut” was done with scissors or the edge of a pica pole. The “paste” part was done with homemade paste or – in the case of the upscale Post – rubber cement.

OSHA doomed the “spike”

Palm Beach Post newsroom Election Night 1976OSHA must have put an end to another old newspaper standby, the “Spike.” When I first got into the business, almost every desk had a wicked-looking spike attached to a flat base. When you were through with your notes or other paperwork, you’d “spike” them on the sharp thing that looked like a long needle. It screwed into the base so you could remove the oldest stuff from the bottom when the spike got full.

With practice, you could hold a paper flat in your palm, and slam it down on the spike without getting speared as it passed between your fingers. I punctured a finger from time to time until I mastered the technique, but I never heard of anyone falling across a desk and impaling himself on one.

The terminology outlasted the tool. If an editor decided to kill a story, he or she would “spike it,” just like you’d drive a stake through a vampire’s heart.

A photo gallery of characters

I’ve held these photos for a couple or years thinking I’d get around to telling the story of some of the characters who inhabited the newsroom in the days before the office and its denizens were domesticated. The folks who wrote the stories were often more interesting than their subjects. Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move through the gallery. Posties, feel free to leave comments with your memories of this fascinating crew and era.

Depressing Press News

Palm Beach Post house ad 10-04-2015Flipping over to Page 2A in my old newspaper, The Palm Beach Post, while munching on a bagel loaded with cream cheese I almost knocked over my cup of coffee, when this house ad jumped out at me. The paper was bragging that it “has more than 100+ journalists reporting the news for you every day in print and online.”

Reminds me of the Good Ole Days

Palm Beach Post - America's Fastest Growing Major Daily Newspaper 09-30-1988Back almost exactly 27 years ago, on September 30, 1988, we were handing out mugs that crowed that we were “America’s Fastest Growing Major Daily Newspaper.” Now, to be honest, I think there should have been some asterisks surrounding that claim, but it was mostly true. We were growing staff, circulation and revenue like there was no tomorrow.

The treasurer said, “We could park a wheelbarrow out in front of the building and people would throw money in it.” (In fairness, in 2008, he added, “One day we went out and the wheelbarrow was empty. The next day when we checked, the wheelbarrow was gone.”)

WE had bragging rights

The 2015 Post is proud that it has 100+ journalists.

Here’s the editorial makeup of the paper on August 28, 2007, a year before the first 300-person purge took place and before our production and circulation departments were outsourced. Palm Beach Newspapers, Inc., had 1,414 employees in all departments at that time.

The newsroom had 317 employees in 16 departments. Here’s the breakdown:

  • 401 News Admin – 12
  • 402 Metro – 62
  • 403 News Desk – 28
  • 404 Sports – 42
  • 405 Features – 33
  • 406 Business – 16
  • 407 Community News – 22
  • 408 Wash Buro – 1
  • 409 Library – 11
  • 410 Graphics – 10
  • 412 Opinion – 12
  • 414 Media – 1
  • 415 Arts & Entertainment – 10
  • 416 State – 19
  • 417 Web – 13
  • 419 Photo – 25

We might have had some fat

PBNI 20-Year Club members 08-17-2008We might have had some fat in 2007, but I can’t believe that you can cut two-thirds of your news-Hoovering folks with centuries of institutional knowledge, then brag about your “more than 100+ journalists” in an advertisement. (When I posted this to Facebook, someone pointed out that “more than 100+” is redundant. Maybe that’s what happens when you get rid of copy editors.)

Click on the photo to read my name as part of the Class of 1972.

Ford Vs. Carter, 1976

720 1976-10-20 Missourian Ford-Carter AdThe hall closet was a catchall for seldom-worn coats, bottles of booze given Dad by vendors at Christmas (some have unbroken seals dating back to 1965) and general domestic detritus. On the top shelf was a stack of yellowing newspapers. Almost every time I came home, Mother would say, “Why don’t you go through those papers and either take them with you or throw them out.”

Every time, I’d answer, “Next time.”

A treasure trove of history

“Next time” finally came the other day. I discovered they were newspapers that had headlines of most of the major stories between the mid-1950s and the early 1970s. Space launches, Martin Luther King assassination and the riots in its aftermath, Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Robert F. Kennedy assassination. Some were from The Southeast Missourian and The St. Louis Globe-Democrat, but there were also covers from papers all over the country.

It dawned on me that in the days before the Internet, newspapers would subscribe to a couple dozen publications, most of which never got read. I must have gone through the stacks and grabbed those significant headlines. Or, maybe I snatched them up from Metro News on Broadway.

I liked Carter, but voted for Ford

Let me go on record as saying that I believe that Jimmy Carter was an honorable man who got dealt a bad deck of cards during his term. I would have voted for him except for two things:

  1. I admired the way Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, sparing the country months of turmoil, even though he had to have known that he was committing political suicide. He took one for the country.
  2. I covered Gerald Ford when he came to South Florida on an uncharacteristically cold, rainy day. He rode in an open car waving at crowds and stopping to shake hands from time to time the whole length of Palm Beach County. I leapfrogged from spot to spot to catch him at several vantage points, and thought to myself (while wet and shivering), “This guy REALLY wants this job.”

A gentle attack ad

Jimmy Carter’s announcement that he has cancer made this Oct. 20, 1976, ad particularly memorable for me.

Carter made the mistake of being honest in a Playboy interview: Christ said, “I tell you that anyone who looks on a woman with lust has in his heart already committed adultery.” I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times. This is something that God recognizes I will do—and I have done it—and God forgives me for it. But that doesn’t mean that I condemn someone who not only looks on a woman with lust but who leaves his wife and shacks up with somebody out of wedlock. Christ says, don’t consider yourself better than someone else because one guy screws a whole bunch of women while the other guy is loyal to his wife. The guy who’s loyal to his wife ought not to be condescending or proud because of the relative degree of sinfulness.

The religious right, predictably, went nutso and condemned one of the most honorable and Christian presidents we’ve had for simply telling the truth.

I have to grudgingly respect this ad and its quiet message, though. It is factual, understated and effective.

Still, I’m sure Playboy circulation skyrocketed for that issue: I mean, you had to run right out to by a copy “to read the interview,” right?