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Larry Peterson - Straight Shots

Of all the changes in 37 years, social media packs biggest punch

There have been many significant changes in our industry since I walked into the Atlantic News Telegraph in January 1980 as a recent college graduate applying for a job as a general assignment and sports reporter.

I did my work on a Royal typewriter in those days, with my copy then handed to a typesetter, who converted it to justified type on columned paper strips that were literally pasted onto the full-sized paper layout pages. Those would be shot as negatives for the plates that would go on the press.

Upon moving to Creston four years later, I was taught how to develop film and then do the “burn and dodge” technique under the light in the darkroom as I got the exposures just right for the prints. The kids these days call that Photoshop.

We’d come in each morning and type our stories, develop film and have all of our copy read by proofreader Birdie Sandeman before Ellen Lang and her crew pasted up the pages according to the “dummies” drawn to scale by me for the sports pages and the editor for the news pages. Somehow, they’d be rolling on the press by our noon deadline.

I still have no idea how we did it, compared to the speed of the digital photo work and page design techniques available to us now.

If the walls could talk in the old darkroom, which was remodeled into our current conference room, they’d have some stories to tell about the young sportswriter’s blue language when realizing a spool of film was chemically blemished. Or, those awkward moments when you open the back of the camera in a lighted newsroom when you thought you had rewound the film first, thus exposing and ruining those frames.

I guess what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, because there were some mornings I literally thought I was going to die. (Think I’m exaggerating? Try facing an editor when your “money shot” from the Amtrak derailment 20 miles away has chemical streaks from the developer tank, and it’s 25 minutes until deadline!)

Social media

But, there is no doubt the biggest change in this business in my 37 years is the effect social media has had on our everyday life.

Besides exposing our work to so many people who would never have seen it, via the links attached to tweets or Facebook posts, it has figuratively made our world smaller.

Through Twitter exchanges, I have held online conversations with some of the greats in our business, not to mention almost every sportswriter and sportscaster in Iowa. In the past, I may have vaguely known some of those folks from shared time at state tournaments or all-state meetings, but now we’re communicating on a regular basis live, as big games (or news events) are going on.

It’s totally changed how “instant” our business has become.

Personal connections

And, those connections with people who you considered “giants” of the field are still a little mind-boggling to me. I have exchanged Twitter messages with several national writers. That’s how the world is now smaller, because I had no chance of direct interaction with those folks before social media.

A couple of national radio shows are recent examples. I often listen to the Jim Rome Show on the CBS Sports app during the lunch hour period, right after Damon Helgevold’s daily sports report at 11 a.m. on KSIB. (By listening to Damon’s interviews, and reading the work of our own Kaleb Carter and Carter Eckl, I feel in tune with local sports even though I’m not on the beat anymore. So, at least I’m slightly prepared when called upon to help out.)

One day Rome was berating the music of Phil Collins, so I kind of tongue-in-cheek sent a tweet to the show saying I might just stop listening if he’s going to go off on musicians from my younger days. I said I had been listening to him since he was on Des Moines stations in the mid-1990s.

Lo and behold, a few minutes later he’s reading my tweet on the air to his nationwide audience of 203 radio stations and online CBS Sports streamers, calling me by name, and telling me I should reconsider such a “divorce” over something so trifle.

Early in the day I often do some work with the Dan Patrick Show on NBC Sports Network in the background. (It’s the beauty of semi-retirement.) On Tuesday, I tweeted about Dan’s approval of the College Football Playoff system, specifically countering that as an unbeaten with a bowl win over Auburn, perhaps Scott Frost’s team got shafted out of a legitimate title shot in this four-team system.

Again, at about 10:12 a.m. Tuesday, I heard my name being read by Dan Patrick on the air, as he espoused his opinion about my tweet.

That’s surreal.

If there’s anything that still makes me pause in amazement about our industry, it’s not the bells and whistles of current computer technology in our building. It’s how we can reach out and connect with literally anyone, at a moment’s notice.

Kind of different than writing a letter, putting a stamp on the envelope and wondering if that person would have any incentive to reply — in a week or so.

Contact the writer:

Twitter: @larrypeterson


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