Reporting Aside

February 2

Re-thinking stacks of paper in a digital world

Once cherished story clips and Rolodexes don’t seem as crucial anymore when everything you need can be retrieved on an electronic device, Sentinel reporter Amy Calder writes.

I’ve been thinking about paper a lot lately.

click image to enlarge

LESS PAPER: Paper and related items like a Rolodex are becoming overshadowed by computers and other mechanical means.

Staff photo by David Leaming

The reason for this is that I have been cleaning out 26 years’ worth of paper from my desk — paper I once thought so valuable that I could never, ever part with it.

The paper of which I speak comes in many different forms: paper index cards in my three old Rolodexes containing phone numbers I have kept and used over my more than two dozen years as a reporter; thousands of stories I have written, clipped, filed by topic and maintained for reference; and lists of phone numbers which, until now, I have kept hanging on the walls near my computer.

Now that we have moved to our new digs on the first floor of the newspaper building, we are culling, cleaning out and downsizing.

This can be difficult for a 50-something baby boomer whose entire life has been organized around paper and who never imagined when she first started as a reporter that all documents she collected over the years could eventually be contained in one, small electronic device.

I survived the shock of realizing a year or so ago that young reporters do not clip and file their stories for reference because they can retrieve them from the electronic archives with the flick of a finger.

It does not seem that long ago — but really is — that the general consensus was a reporter who did not clip and file his or her stories was lazy, not to mention at a great disadvantage when it came to securing background information for a story.

In my early days as a reporter, Rolodexes were considered a prized possession, especially those that contained important phone numbers garnered over many years. The more famous or distinguished or valuable the source, the more precious the number.

Back then, there was no Internet from which you could glean information or find someone on Facebook, White Pages or through Google or other search engines. Paper lists were indispensable and Rolodexes were guarded like gold.

I’ve recently noticed another interesting phenomenon: The desks of young reporters appear much neater than those of older writers, as they seem to have little use for the piles of paper that we have relied on for so many years.

As a result, newsrooms are much quieter than they used to be. There’s no longer the constant shuffling of papers, as most agendas, letters and other correspondence generally come to us via e-mail (although there is the occasional fax). Phones no longer ring off the hook, as e-mail apparently is the preferred mode of communication.

There’s no need to shout across the room to one another as we can easily shoot a quick e-mail or chat from our computers.

Pink memo slips that were a staple of the past — and which we would regularly find on our desks with phone messages and other notes — are practically nonexistent now, as is snail mail.

An editor asked me about a year ago why I printed so many documents sent to me electronically. I told him it was easier for me to refer to a real paper document than to one on my screen, placed side-by-side with the story I am writing. Feeling a bit self-conscious after that and realizing I was behind the times, I vowed to print less frequently.

Over time, as the file cabinets at my desk became bloated, I sought an extra drawer in a cabinet nearby for old phone books (which come in handy, by the way, when looking for addresses of former businesses or local luminaries), city council agendas, town reports and other items I was sure I’d need one day.

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