In the presence of industry legends

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Texas Type

Ihad the chance to see some legends this weekend, but they weren’t Tiger Woods or Dirk Nowitzki.

Our South Texas Press Association, the largest regional press association in the nation, met in La Grange for a weekend of education, entertainment and friendly competition. (See story elsewhere about how we fared.)

At the Fayette County Fair Grounds, one of the exhibits is the Czech Newspaper Museum, which is nestled among other historic displays featuring a general store, lumber mill and more. These buildings were all well-done and nicely preserved a piece of that area’s Czech history.

Some veteran newsmen in our organization put on printer’s aprons and gave an impromptu talk about how they got their start in the business. One entered an official apprentice program, others worked with their family business. It was an entertaining talk about how their early days of getting some “ink in their blood” led to their careers in journalism. Someone remarked it was a “Mount Rushmore Moment” for South Texas community journalism.

Sam Keach was a University of Texas graduate whose family ran the Nueces County Record for generations. Larry Jackson was another UT grad who spent his career in Round Rock, Pecos, Wharton and La Grange.

My father, Bill Cooke, is a North Texas journalism grad and a third-generation publisher of our hometown paper, The Rockdale Reporter.

All have won umpteen awards for their publications.

And Griffin (Griff) Singer, of Austin, is a professor emeritus at the UT School of Journalism who continues to educate those of us in the ranks. He regularly gives talks on news writing, page design and more at state association meetings.

Griff was the assistant managing editor at The Dallas Morning News in 1963 when President Kennedy was assassinated. (He still recalls details of the chaos, such as a detective who arrested Lee Harvey Oswald getting his thumb caught in the hammer of Lee Harvey Oswald’s revolver, likely saving his life and others, and the fanning out of his reporters and photographers — sans cell phones that are so ubiquitous today.

The four gathered around an old Kluge press, surrounded by old wooden type relics, and talked shop. My dad told about he got his start as a lad standing on a stack of roller boxes hand-feeding sheets into a press. Griff said newcomers to the trade were told to observe a row of type that secretly had water into the forms. When the rookies were told to look carefully for “printer’s type lice,” they would get their face close to the type form and the veterans would punch the letters together, giving a face full of water to the newbie.

Press hijinks. The good ol’ days.

The atmosphere in those days had plenty of cigarette smoke from the adult pressmen, heat from the melted lead type and backshop sweat. Every now and then, someone would drop a form that had been set with an entire newspaper page of text and photos, which no doubt brought a good cussing for and embarrassment to the guilty party.

Griff says he much prefers the newer way of doing things with computers, software and air-conditioning. But it didn’t erase the charms of that bygone era.

It was fitting the four gathered when they did, which was the same week marking the death of Benjamin Franklin in 1790. Franklin, of course, made his mark on the free press in Philadelphia in this country’s first days. That was among his many other inventive societal improvements, such as the start of a volunteer fire department.

As one who learned to type on a typewriter and used a Mac II when I got my start in college journalism, it was a nice peek into the old days from men I hold in high regard. It was a chance to learn a bit from some legends in our industry.

ken@fredericksburgsyandard.com