Friday, September 4, 2009

Les Goates (and the Internet turns 40)


My grandfather was Les Goates, famed sports editor, columnist and later editorial writer for the Deseret News. I was intrigued with this editorial appearing in the online edition of the paper this morning about the Internet turning 40 years old this week.

As I write this blog day by day, I am reminded of what his life was like compared to mine. Les Goates lived in Sugarhouse in the early days, and later when he owned a car in East Mill Creek. He was the consummate newspaper man. He would write his newspaper columns "Les Go by Les Goates" for years on an old standard typewriter by the light of his desk lamp, hunting and pecking through the keys as he went. I remember seeing that old typewriter long after he had quit using it, and it was a true artifact, an antique, a relic. Sometimes the lights burned late into the night and early morning hours as he labored over every word. He had two well-worn books (also antiques today) -- a dictionary and a thesaurus -- at his side. When he made a mistake there was no choice but to stop, roll the paper in the typewriter, erase it on all three copies separated by carbon paper, then reposition the paper and start again. Creating words in those days was tedious and laborious.

He would arise early each morning with his copy in his pocket, first to catch the trolley car in Sugarhouse, and later to drive his car into work. I remember him telling about reading and re-reading his copy on the trolley car with his red pencil in hand, pouring over every word, every punctuation mark, every nuance of the words on the page until he was satisfied that he had given it the life he intended. Words were important to him -- every word stood for something, and he made them all count.

In the early days he was his own typesetter. I'm sure he thought vast improvements had been made when a typesetter was assigned to him and he no longer had to set the type himself. One unfamiliar with the old newspaper presses would be totally unaware of how difficult the process was. He would take his typewritten page to the copy room and "pick" the tiny little lead letters one by one and assemble them on a board, using spacers between the words and paragraphs -- and all this was done backwards, right to left and upside down so that when it was printed it would lay out correctly! The typesetter had to be able to first recognize the letters in their backward and upside down configuration (see accompanying picture), pick them one letter at a time with a small set of tweezers, then place them correctly in the forme -- no small feat.

Then a proof sheet would be struck and more checking ensued to make certain all those upside down, backwards letters had found their correct home. Blocks and blocks of pages, articles, pictures and advertisements were assembled, ordered and finally printed in the afternoon hard copy edition of the daily newspaper. It was hard work, and as soon as one daily edition was completed, Les Goates was back at it in his fertile mind thinking about what would come next for tomorrow's edition. Day in, day out, that was his life for well over forty years! Imagine the complexity of having to attend all those sporting events (usually at night), then write the story!

During the letterpress era, moveable type was composited by hand for each page. Cast metal sorts were composited into words and lines of text and tightly bound together to make up a page image called a forme, with all letter faces exactly the same height to form an even surface of type. The forme was mounted in a press, inked, and an impression made on paper.

I have only vague memories in my formative years of my grandfather's life. He routinely took me to the Bees baseball games back in those days when they were in the old Pacific Coast League, and even made all his grandchildren stockholders in the old organization. Last night as I watched this year's annual installment of the Utah vs. Utah State football game (Utah 35, Utah State 17), I remembered it was traditionally played on Thanksgiving Day. We always attended that game religiously as a family and Thanksgiving dinner was delayed until after the game was over. What wonderful memories! He loved sports and writing. His love of both was deeply imprinted and imbedded in the DNA of most of his posterity.

Today as my fingers breeze over the keyboard of my computer and I cut and paste from electronic files that I have been writing for my own enjoyment as an avocation for years, I can hardly believe that Les Goates did what he did. The ease with which I create words today is stunning by comparison. I publish on my desktop at will, and it is instantly flashed over the Internet to anyone who has a search engine and is lucky enough to stumble over my blog.

I'll bet Les Goates is looking down on all this progress with just a little bit of envy for what I'm doing and how I'm doing it. He should have been so lucky!

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