Not much to see around here

Published 9:55 pm Saturday, February 19, 2011

Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of calls from Cub Scouts — or more precisely, from the mothers of Cub Scouts — asking whether we’re willing to conduct tours of the Suffolk News-Herald’s offices on South Saratoga Street.

I always wonder what these nice ladies must think goes on behind the glass doors that lead into our downtown offices. Are they expecting a roomful of Philip Marlow types wearing fedoras, bad ties and stained shirts to be yelling into their telephones at uncooperative sources they’ve already paid to provide them with information for tomorrow’s hot story?

The only thing real about that Hollywood scene is the fact that I wear a hat.

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The first thing I usually tell these nice ladies is that I’d be happy to show their six-year-olds around. And then I note that we no longer have a press in the building, and we print our papers elsewhere, so there’s not a lot to see.

There was a time when Scouts could come to our offices and be led into the back of the building to watch something wonderful happen. There, they would stand with eyes like saucers, watching as paper was fed into the press from rolls that stood taller than the boys. They’d see it wind its way through a labyrinth of rollers, plates and ink trays. And at the other end of the loud, dangerous contraption, there would be a newspaper, ink so fresh you could smell it, crisp and folded and ready to carry home under the arm.

It was just the sort of thing boys would like, especially if the tour guide remembered to warn them in no uncertain terms that they should get nowhere near the press, because of the danger of a decapitating paper cut or a flattening trip through the rollers. Those warnings never failed to secure the boys’ rapt attention. Their mothers, on the other hand, always seemed to turn their attention from the press to the boys at about that point of the tour.

Today, without a press and with the demise of the Hollywood typecast reporters, newsrooms can seem like boring places where the computers look just like the ones at home or at school, and everything that happens to create the newspaper takes place on a screen or in someone’s head. The most exciting thing the folks on our last tour saw was a framed copy of a front page from the old Suffolk Herald.

I remember explaining all this to one nice mother who had called seeking a tour to help her young Cub Scouts achieve their “Go See It” activity in communications. She thanked me for letting her know ahead of time and said she’d get back in touch. Today, I was listening to a local talk radio station and heard the troop she works with as they were introduced on live radio and encouraged to “push whatever buttons you want.”

“Push whatever buttons you want?” “You’re on the radio live; say hello to all the people out there?”

Not even the coolest folded newspaper hats can compete with that.