Interviewing for a job at the Boston Herald, for as life-changing an event as it was, doesn’t hold a particularly sizable chunk of memory bank.
Deduction alone pins it to late August 2010, and I remember live-story editing tests involving UFC 118, MMA’s first big-time foray into Boston. (No. 143, live from Brazil, is a week from tomorrow. Pay-per-view lingers for no man.) I remember quickly deducing the good cop-bad cop dynamic between my two future bosses — one made me laugh, the other asked whether I thought I was “too good” to do the lowly agate page, one of my favorite desk duties then and now. I remember the fascination with the light-sensitive ‘Visitor’ sticker I had to wear, and with the ‘computers’ on which the paper was produced. (When they were replaced that November, I snapped a picture of a back label: “MFG DATE: OCTOBER 1991.” Given their age and the state of the office, I assume they were originally gasoline powered.)
Outside of the above quote, one specific statement rings louder than most. Hank Hryniewicz, the kinder half of the cop drama, assured me if I got the job, I would be around when the paper moved to its new offices. Didn’t know where or when, just knew that moving boxes weren’t an ‘if.’
My first day was Sept. 17, 2010. Moving day is today.
Tonight, the normal three-edition Saturday paper will be one edition. A little after 10 p.m., allowing for the usual fudging of first deadline, movers will carry away the boxes that’ve littered the office for weeks. (And, in grand moving tradition, were mostly packed at the last possible moment.) We will pack up the computers on which we just put out the newspaper, with the idea we’ll return to them Saturday afternoon at the Seaport Center, where months of renovations have turned two floors into a wonderland of exposed brick, flat-panel TVs and disease-free surfaces. (My first several weeks at the Herald, I got semi-regular headaches. When they stopped, I considered it less progress than infection.)
The old building won’t immediately be razed, but it will be. At the intersection of Interstates 90 & 93, near the gentrifying SoWa district, it is destined for that greatest of uses: mixed, featuring retail space and comically expensive apartments few of us could ever dream of inhabiting. “Publisher’s Place” or “Traveler Arms” aren’t out of the realm for possible names. At the least, I’m sure there’ll be a small plaque in the lobby, denoting the site’s 54 years as home to Boston’s beloved guilty pleasure.
The move is, above all else, practical. You may remember the fervor when the Herald outsourced its printing operations in 2008, leading to vandalism on the way out the door by some of the 100+ who lost their jobs. The building’s a shell without all the print workers and equipment downstairs, to say nothing of whatever reductions there’ve been in the newsroom the past half century. Many of the offices that ring the upstairs are empty (though the black mold that’s growing in some of them deserves partial credit for that). The prototypical company that’s slimmed down, but hasn’t bothered to buy new clothes.
The Seaport Center space is a tailored tuxedo. Built to specifications in a marble-lobbied building, it oozes adaptation to a changing landscape. In the shadow of the new convention center, I will now work in Boston’s “Innovation District,” a waterfront formerly full of Frank McCourt-owned parking lots that grows more exciting by the day. Hotels. High-end condos. The Institute for Contemporary Art. A Jerry Remy’s restaurant. I mean, what more could a person ask for? (Me, not much. I don’t have to move out of New Bedford, and I get a Fresh City, a 7-Eleven and a Bank of America within walking distance.)
It is, however, a not-too-subtle reminder of what’s happening in media. The Boston Herald is leaving its newspaper building for a nebulous home base where newsprint just feels like it’s going to dirty up the new desks. How could a neat freak not love an upgrade like the one we’re going through.
Well, because I’m newspaper people. I’m a history buff. And I’m watching both of those sink like an Italian cruise ship, something I wouldn’t enjoy even if I wasn’t standing on the deck while it foundered.
The shift from big office to small means an inevitable culling. In a building that’s been home to 50+ years of reporting and commemorating the news of the day, that means a ghastly amount of yesteryear landing in gray trash bins and red recycling racks. Books. Negatives. Newspapers. Signs. Promotionals. Posters. Media guides. Photographs. The sorts of things you might just assume a newspaper keeps handy until you realize, well, they haven’t. The Herald sold most of its photo archives before I got there, and it seems the microfilm of past issues is available at (and thanks to) the Boston Public Library.
Me fishing through the bins became a bit of an office joke during the moving process, the kid with the least seniority trying to vacuum up the most history. The apartment wasn’t lacking for clutter before the Herald days, but it certainly isn’t now. There’s a stack of papers under the coffee table destined to join the ones stacked in the kitchen, that stack sitting on a plastic chest of old S-Ts. Heralds from the Sox in 2004 and ’07. A 2005 season preview, proclaiming “WHY THE SOX WILL REPEAT AS WORLD CHAMPS” above a leaping Johnny Damon. “Miracle Pats Stun Rams.” “Vinatieri Kicks Pats to Second Super Bowl Win.” The Fenway All-Star Game preview from 1999. “FADE TO BLACKO” — the Michael Jackson death cover that apparently brought protesters to the Herald’s doorstep. The extra when OJ was acquitted. The 9/11 issue.
In my trunk, there’s a random paper from 1983 advertising “STAR WARS WEEK.” A couple posters touting newspaper delivery as “not just kid stuff anymore!” (Like most hoarders say, I’ll be getting this framed.) A bag of red buttons from the ’80s, the paper urging kids to “Say No To Drugs!” Several copies of this poster, which makes this spring’s “BEST TEAM EVER” declaration seem a mere typo:
Its value is not the point. It is what newspapers were. Not when I started in the business, but when I fell in love with it. All those mornings before school, reading the Union-News the way kids in Eastern Mass. read the Globe or the Herald or whatever. I didn’t know it wouldn’t be there when I got to it, even in high school, when Mr O’Brien’s journalism class cemented that this was the only thing I ever really wanted to do. It wasn’t about writing vs. editing, being in the field vs. being a paginator. It was something I was good at. It was something I loved, for whatever reason I did.
And it was changing. When I got to New Bedford, they were in their new building already, the five-story grimehouse with the press in the basement shuttered same as it is today. I heard the old stories about the elevator with the attendant, the pneumatic tubes to shuffle pages between floors, the times cigarettes set people’s desks on fire, the drinking in the office. I laughed. I lamented missing those days.
The old Herald building offered me a window to them, but just that. It was the movie set after the cast and crew left town. Last night on my way out the door, I walked though some of the gutted areas downstairs, same as I have increasingly the last couple months. I wandered in the engraving room, the only equipment left being drains on the floors and random replating instructions on the walls.
I walked through the empty mail/insertion room upstairs, marveling at how big it was and at the 2008 calendars still there, unchanged. I took stock of the old bumper stickers still hanging around the office — support for the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, for the mid-’80s Doug Flutie teams at BC, for some new show (“Married … with Children”) on some new network, for Bobby Orr. Talk about relics to a bygone era. We’ve been told, at the new building, we’re not allowed to put anything on the walls.
Tonight will be anticlimactic in many ways, an excuse to get out of work early and have a couple pops down the street at J.J. Foley’s, at least before college kids fill the place Heraldites have been drinking since their parents wouldn’t be caught dead in that part of town. Saturday will be exciting, if only because we really have no idea what state the office (and those aforementioned computers) will be in when we get there. Apologies in advance to those hoping for insightful coverage of the evening’s NHL All-Star Skills Extravaganza.
I spent a little more than 16 months at One Herald Square. They started with me intimidated, trying to convince myself I belonged at the second biggest paper in the state. I wasn’t sure whether I’d ever get the hang of the old Atex machines, which were already past their prime when I was a college intern doing pagination in Nashua, N.H. (I didn’t. If they didn’t go, I would have.) I wasn’t sure I’d be able to deal with editions, essentially doing parts of the paper 2-3 times per night. (I did. In hindsight, it’s easy enough that it’s stupid I ever gave it a second thought.) I wasn’t aware that the Herald is just like the S-T, the paper in Nashua and the hundreds of others around the country all trying to figure out the same questions.
How do we make this work?
How do we ensure our subscribers never die?
How few people do we really need to do what we do?
Sixteen months from now, by my rudimentary math skills, will be May 2013. The UFC pay-per-views will be scratching the 160s. I’ll be 33 years old. I’ll possibly have a mortgage, a child or both.
I’d be lying if I didn’t wonder if I’ll have a job. That’s no knock on my employer. Just the song of all the people who got into the show far closer to the end than the beginning.