In our news stories we try to be what the journalism professors call proportional – that means we try to give a story as much length, depth and importance as it deserves.
For example, while a large fire or a murder may may make a front page headline, usually a shoplifter or fender bender will not.
We would not write a 10,000-word story about changing a light bulb in the city parking lot, but would tell you more about a costly infrastructure improvement.
Sometimes, however, we fail to live up to those standards of proportion.
Our obituary of our friend Bob Lutz was one such failure. We first met Bob when he was working part-time for the newspaper, typing stories sent in from faxes and press releases. This was in 2003, five years after he had officially retired. Bob kept typing for several more years, and even after finally retiring from that part-time job, he continued to share local history through the “Back in the Day” series, finding old photographs and explaining the history behind them.
And yet, the other day, in our obituary, we summed up Bob’s decades in the business with these insufficient words: We said he “also worked” for the newspaper.
For more than 50 years, Bob had done some of the hardest work in the newspaper business, using what we now call hot lead to create the letters which created the type which created the words you read in newsprint. They had stopped using hot lead long before I started my first newspaper job, so I never saw first-hand how hard Bob worked. He kind of described the process to me on a couple of times, but I never saw his work, felt the heat of the leaden components or smelled the result of heating lead to 500 degrees F.
Later Bob learned the easier, but still complicated Linotype or “cold” type process. By the time he retired, we were taking the stories Bob had typed and put them into text documents and page-making programs that printed out entire pages in two or three pieces of paper – much easier and cheaper technologically, but also very demanding.
Bob “also worked” on this system.
A 1991 story highlighted the different ways that Bob helped put words on the page of the local newspaper. He observed in that interview that there was a huge advantage to using Macintosh computers to type stories and public notices.
When asked about the benefits of the computer, Bob replied: “It has its advantages. The biggest is that you can see what you’re typing.”
Bob could read those as efficiently as he could a newspaper, with real words.
I started my career always being able to see the words I was typing, and yet I made countless ridiculous mistakes. Bob began his with type that lined up letters backwards, as well as a tape machine that created a series of holes instead of letters and numbers. I am sure he made some mistakes. I am even more sure he made fewer than I did.
Saying that Bob “also worked” at the newspaper is like saying that Babe Ruth pitched and “also swung a bat.” It’s like saying George Washington farmed and “also did soldiering,” or that Neil Armstrong “also liked taking solo walks.” It does not come close to telling the story of Bob’s decades of newspaper work, or the skill, dedication and hard work it took to be successful.
And like many jobs, people would not notice if Bob performed his job perfectly, but if he made a mistake while working with technology that would not even let him read what he was typing, they were likely to see it in the paper. For nearly 40 years, Bob worked behind the scenes, typing in codes that only people in his line of work could understand so you could read words in English.
We never had the chance to work with Bob on the Vinton Today platform, but I am sure he would have adopted and done as well as he did in the days of hot lead.
By doing what he did, so quietly, so steadily, he worked to make the newspaper work, to get the news to you every day in a way you could understand.
Later, computers offered Bob the chance to see what he was typing. And whatever the changes in technology his career brought him, Bob willingly adapted. Every time.
“He was the last of the legacy,” says Frank Kruse, whose father, also named Frank, hired Bob. “Bob was a quiet man who was well-respected by the owner and his colleagues.” Frank says he recalls many conversations with Bob about the newspaper business over the decades, and remembers how much Bob loved his work.
Bob would have said it’s no big deal that his obituary didn’t mention much about his importance in the local media, or his years of hard work. His obituary also mentioned the things that mattered much more to him than his newspaper work: His faith. His family. His farm.
But for those of us who knew him, and understood how hard he had worked for so long, it is a big deal.