Kodak’s not the only victim of the Sunbelt’s transformation. In the rush to centralization and faster and cheaper goods, newspapers throughout the country have had to shut down presses such as these to share joint printing facilities in often out-of-town locations.
By Dan Bodine
CLEBURNE, TX–How many friends from Cleburne, TX, remember the laconic photographer Sam Gatewood at the old Times-Review newspaper? Wife the longtime typing teacher at the high school.
Not tall, but above medium built he was, wide head and brow, thinning, receding brown hair; wore glasses. Big eyes would stare at you from way off yonder 10 seconds or so before replying to a question.
Kodak filing Chapter 11 early last year (CNN story here) sure brought back memories of dealing with Sam. In the hurried pace of the Sunbelt in the late ’80s and early ’90s, he always gave the image of being a reluctant photographer. Struggling to fit a new with an old has been difficult for a lot of us, yes.
Sam’s peculiar old ways drew social minimalism scorn. His pass-the-time-of-day in idle-chat slowness stood in the way of a production product, an achievement.
This put him a level below a caring human being in the eyes of those working frantically to get a newspaper put together and printed. If he’d been a rusty nail, composing room employees alone ( who waited for a photo and the info on it to set the necessary type) would‘ve bit him in two 2-3 times each week. The contempt was that strong.
Not to even mention the printing or circulation department folks all waiting in line, too. Or further, readers or advertisers waiting on deliveries. Don’t impede production progress. Slow, Sam was. The Sunbelt’s increasing the stakes in newspapers minimalized him. Cut him out of the deck, in that respect.
Even slower at times I was, a year or so later, in taking my turn as managing editor there, in providing a smooth and orderly content flow for those composition employees to work with.
Often I wanted to write more as a reporter, and tended to forget the more important m.e. duties. That and just being a slow writer, too, I was. No place for me! I had the feeling at times.
But the two back-to-back slams made some memorable times at the old newspaper. Years of the late 70s and early to mid-80s, it was, in the first half of the Sunbelt’s glitzy reign. Blame some of it on that, you can. Kodak certainly will.
Explosive growth transformed almost overnight larger cities of the South, Southwest and West, headquarters already for many major industries. It brought in newer or expanded industries, and many thousands of new jobs with them.
Not expecting ground-swell waves in people’s lifestyles in the surrounding areas was akin to placing a bucket beneath a water faucet and forgetting to turn it off later. Where else was all that going? What else was it to do?
Blame the New Right and a rush to make tons of money for the Sunbelt’s excessiveness. Truly an American diaspora, the fallout has been. When history sets it all right, I think you’ll see it was the end of the old Industrial Age for us too.
Chains were lured by the Sunbelt’s advertising potential early on, and began picking up newspapers like Confederate confetti at county fairs, it appeared at times. Indebting themselves seemingly forever with note payoff obligations. Radical capitalism had added a new wrinkle on its face. Betting on inflation against middle-class wage earners shrank both.
But Gold in them thar hills! had an innate drag time few discussed. Not only did new owners realize it’d be a spell longer before they could cash in their chips but they learned also that all family newspapers were not created equal. The Times-Review was one. Donrey Media bought it in the mid-70s.
Was Sam even drawing a salary then? He got use of the dark room and the supplies and that’s it, I think. Under an arrangement from the paper’s former owner, the photographer’s earnings were from subsequent private sales of photos he’d shot for the newsroom.
Naturally most of those pictures were lifestyle or society department in nature. Or kids at school. Lots of those. Others, Sam wasn’t too keen on.
Nor did he appreciate outsiders hired by some new-fangled newspaper company coming in and telling him he needed to do so-and-so by such-and-such time either.
How long was it, that that awkward relationship continued? Two-three years at least? Dan Smith, new general manager, finally brought in the talented Jim West in the early 80s to bail us out. And allowed us to kick it up a notch.
We were spending our days and evenings covering and writing news, and our nights in the darkroom developing film and printing photos for features running that next day.
Today–part , too, of Kodak’s e-age laments–reporters and photographers click or press on a mobile somewhere and the news desk editor miles away gets it. Or the video clip is brought in from last night’s meeting or game. Wow! What a milestone. No film to develop and worry over.
A newspaper’s final pages in the composition room is the front page and a “hop” page, for the latest “spot” news and photos for that edition. Before the computers and e-stuff, in the days of Kodak film and paper, this was a stage that routinely snagged Sam, it seemed. Didn’t have time; always busy on something else; whatever!
Too, he seldom communicated. Just being Sam. You never knew if he was working in his darkroom at home, or the one at the T-R. Or espousing the Fourth Estate at Chaf-In over a brew of coffee. Whatever happened to times when good folks had more time to enjoy life?
But I’ve got these dear images in my mind of John Moody, at first the city and then the managing editor for a few years, coming into the newsroom from the backshop with this despicableness on his face, staring at the floor after not seeing Sam. Mumbling to himself.
John often talked to himself. Interesting conversations. But he’d stalk first over to the window to see if Sam was coming from outside, then he’d trek out into the lobby area to look down the long hallway, to see if the rascal was coming in from the back.
Coming up empty, he‘d stumble back into the newsroom frantically like someone had dropped him from a 40-floor building (long before a safety net had been put in place at the bottom), and would dive back into the backshop, mumbling to himself still, before relaying the unsurprising news.
Have no idea where Sam is! was all you could make out from the words.
Oh, what memorable times! Had Sam been minimalized lower, he’d been a flea crawling on the carpet. Twenty, sometimes 40 or more minutes later, well past deadline, he’d then saunter into the newsroom from somewhere–bewilderment on his face, photo in hand, his prize for us.
And then it’d be fingers typing, shoulders and elbows blurring, legs running, all to get the identifying photo information thru the backshop production process. Sheesh!
I remember also, during this wild couple of years or so, an angry publicity person for CISD coming up to my desk in one of these tense moments, wanting even more coverage for the school district. Befuddled she was, and a bit resentful, too, with all that was happening at her newspaper.
We set ya’ll up with all these wonderful stories, something you can use to stick in your paper for the readers to see; doing you a favor, we are; and then you don’t seem to be too excited about it! Why?
She didn’t know Sam. Nor any of the other myriads of minimalism complications the Sunbelt brought. Totally a failed exposure, she was..
Kodak struggled with these new stepped up developments, too, especially in the latter half of the Sunbelt when the rapid, almost total change to electronic photos stripped it of its one principle product, film.
The Chap. 11 filing will buy it some time, yes. But don’t look for a miracle. In ‘The Last Kodak Moment’ The Economists looks at how swift technological change and dragging its heels in adapting to it now threaten to shutter the company.
It’s sad, too, yes. Once a reining king, now like so many other companies and people minimalized in the Sunbelt’s aftermath, it now faces being a has-been–worthless to the money gods on Wall Street.
But hold onto your old photo books and the memories though. Capitalism will never be able to wipe them off the shelf. Those Kodak moments will last.
Too, with this new ePublishing awash now you might even turn them into gold someday. One change deserves another apparently. New opportunities of a different sort are showing up, they are.
Life goes on.
(Note: Sam is being reposted here from an earlier version that appeared last month on our sister site, Center on Social Minimalism.)
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