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Work of Art: Does news ever change?

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By Art Trujillo

How much history is buried in various construction sites, in homes, backyards and under carpets?

It’s interesting to come across information long past, and even overdue. Some news discoveries can be embarrassing.

In 1962, I learned about one such instance while attending a dinner meeting of the Cook County (Ill.) Press Association, in which an editor of one of Chicago’s dailies spoke to us about Chicago journalism history.

The speaker talked about the familiar Teletype machines, those mammoth electric typewriters that print the news without any visible operators. The paper I worked for then had several wire services. By contrast, the Optic, the newspaper I had just left, had only one wire service, and one at a time, variously United Press International or The Associated Press.

The Copley organization for which I worked in the early ‘60s, had about a dozen clattering machines, one just for its own sister newspapers, one for each wire service, a pair of sports wires, and even a Spanish-language wire that piped in news from Mexico and Central and South America.

As the only Hispanic on the reportorial staff of about 12, naturally it was just assumed any translating duties would fall to me. Fortunately, each Spanish-language dispatch came with a one-sentence English summary — and that helped.

At the time, Aurora, Ill., where I worked for the Beacon-News, ran two editions daily and was one of the few strong newspapers in the Chicago metropolitan area, along with dailies in Elgin and Joliet.

The dinner speaker gave his own version of “history” when he said that the entire staff had allowed  a wire story that had occurred five years earlier to slip through that day’s edition. He explained that somehow the copy that squirted out of a Teletype years earlier landed on the floor, probably during a paper roll change. A janitor picked it up and placed it on the managing editor’s desk, along with the new copy, and the editor ran the stale article in that day’s edition.

I can’t remember any of the contents of this “breaking” news story, but I do know that our error gave rise to our being also known as the Aurora BeConfused, which delighted our detractors.

Our newspaper, with its penchant for repeating history, or at least in republishing it, received a black eye. But on one level, isn’t news really the process of republishing information? Daily we read about wars, about the unthinkable act of shooting down a plane containing almost 300 passengers. We read about homeless men bludgeoned to the extent that their bodies are not immediately identifiable.

Does the news really change?

Locally, I’m looking at extant copies of the Las Vegas Daily Optic from the early ‘40s. A few months ago, Joseph Baca of KFUN produced some copies, which his son discovered at the house of Joseph’s in-laws. The still-legible copies surfaced during some floor work at the house. In the past, many people used newspapers for wrapping, insulating and padding.

The most remarkable thing is the width of that copy, 17.5 inches, compared with our current 11 inches. No matter what, newspapers always seem to be 21 inches tall; it’s the width that keeps shrinking.

Another observable feature is the sheer number of stories. The copy I’m holding, dated Sept. 25, 1943, contains 21 articles, no artwork, but a sea of headlines. “Smolensk Falls to Soviet Forces,” while technically the headline, is flanked by another eight-column line of type: “Fifth Army Looks On Plains of Naples.”

The Optic being dated 1943, it’s no surprise that a dozen articles deal directly with the then-current war, with a few other tangential articles regarding the scarcity of gasoline or the goal of manufacturing one military plane every five minutes.

And the U.S. representative from New Mexico, Clinton P. Anderson, announced that “permanent” types of anti-freeze at the time were available only for “commercial vehicles, tractors, stationary engines and police cars.” However, after Oct. 1, the product would be available for passenger cars as well. Can someone define “stationary engine”?

A local item, taking up only two of the page’s 168 column inches, tells of a Raton man, Capt. Richard Azar, who had the honor of landing the first heavy bomber on Munda airdrone after it fell to Allied forces. Virtually every other article carries a Washington dateline. A bulletin in that day’s edition mentions a dead-or-missing toll of 3,497 American G.I.’s.
In those pre-TV days, major league baseball results appeared, usually on page one. Strict deadlines often caused the reporting of incomplete baseball scores. So, for what it’s worth, on that day, Brooklyn led Chicago 2-1 after three innings.

Whereas the ever-reliable Teletype machine provided the bulk of front-page news, the “Social and Miscellanea” page, the predecessor to our “La Gente” page, was packed with local tidbits.

Here, we read about Billie R. Springer, who’s about to wed; about Lt. Col. Charles D. Reid, who addressed the meeting of Sorosis; of a birthday celebration for Mary Jean Maes; a public installation for Rainbow officers; and a miscellaneous shower honoring Margaret Herrera, who left for the University of Chicago.

The 1943 sports page carried mainly box scores of major league games and occasional local bowling results. The teams and sponsors that competed 71 years ago vanished, for the most part, years ago. They were DeMolay, High School Faculty, Camp Luna, Home Café, Light & Water, Charles Ilfeld, Las Vegas Gas, S&S Club, Montgomery Ward, Stevens 66, Casino Bar, J.C. Johnsen & Son, Taupert’s and Highlands University Faculty.

Assuredly, much repeated news has appeared since the printing of that issue of the Optic, seven decades ago. Yes, we still have wars. And of the bowling squads that competed back then, well, two entities remain — the High School Faculty and the Highlands University Faculty — but do they still bowl?

The sports summary doesn’t identify which high school — East, West or Normal — provided the bowling team.

If we fail to discover which school it was, we might need to ask Joseph Baca to do a bit more digging at his wife Loretta’s parents’ house on Chavez Street.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com or art@rezio.net.