Posted on by Lee Richmond
The City Room was one wide room on the second floor of the Chronicle building, reachable by stairwell. Reporters in front of big standard upright office typewriters sat in ranks facing the riveting gaze of Abe Mellinkoff, City Editor. When one of them finished a draft, he (sic) would yank the paper out of the typewriter roller and yell “Boy!” One of us would run, take the draft and rush it up to Abe, and then hurry back to the task of pasting up the previous edition for the copy editors, who sat in a ring in the middle of the room. To this day, if you give me a newspaper page, a sheet of paper, a paste pot and a 10-inch piece of 2-point leading, I can paste you up a story in less than 30 seconds. Meantime, Abe would have shouted “Boy!” and another boy would run the marked-up copy back to the anxious reporter. Fascinating were the sports editors, who sat in the ring all evening testing each other: “What shortstop ended two consecutive innings in a World Series with double plays?” At least one of them would always have the answer. Fascinating too was the Composition Room downstairs, where old men (sic) sat at Linotypes keying in the stories, producing a cascade of brass font-forms that would assemble themselves and be moved under a reservoir of molten lead, which would emerge as a Line ‘O Type, to be locked into a form and printed as a page. One week I drew the graveyard shift, and every night sat all alone at Abe’s desk listening to the police radio and the chug of the Teletypes. The teletypes had bells: 1 ring for routine, 2 rings for news, 3 rings for Big News. The police calls were all about drunks and hookers, and I never got 3 bells, so I never had to pick up the phone and call Abe Mellinkoff. I would emerge at the end of the shift, dazed and exhausted, and go across the street for a beer. Quite the collection of patrons in a Tenderloin saloon at 7 a.m.!