Friday, 29 January 2016

Vintage [Typewritten] Style

Please read it right through at least once. … Perhaps we would then avoid the need for executives to issue memos reminding reporters and sub-editors of settled points of style.
I’m often accused of being a little odd. I struggle to refute these claims because I have to admit that I’ve always been enamelled by style guides. It got to the point where one was being dispensed from the school library, it was offered to me before it was offered to the recycling bin. For Christmas when I was 15, I asked for a copy of the current Fairfax Media Stylebook. It’s a treasured document which others don’t see the beauty in.

When I’m in second hand bookshops, I’m always on the lookout for style manuals. I’ve got a few copies of Fowler’s Modern English, but it’s old newspaper style manuals which I’m really after. So far, I’ve only ever found one.

In an almost hidden shelf, in a basement bookshop just down from Flinders St Station in Melbourne, I found the April 1975 Style Book of The Herald and Weekly Times Limited.

Covered in orange cardboard, it’s document from the glory days of the typewriter-powered newsroom, providing details on how to format typewritten copy, when newspaper editions ran, how to minimise errors when telephoning in copy and how to mark up proofs. It provides indications on how much copy will fill the columns of the broadsheet evening Herald and the morning tabloid Sun. (Which were combined in October 1990 as the morning tabloid Herald Sun – a Murdoch publication.)

Regularly accused of being nostalgic for a time I never knew, this little book renders for me a world of sub-editors, grease pencils, pots of glue, landline telephones and wind-blown phone boxes, newspaper presses producing more editions a day than possible now, and reporters equipped with portable typewriters and shorthand and fabled contact books. It’s probably a world half-constructed from make believe, but this proves enough of the vital facts to keep me entertained.

But its advice to journalists, and how they should write their copy, is timeless.
“Be Accurate. Be Clear. Be quick. Use short words, short sentences, short paragraphs. Write balanced reports.

“These are the prime requirements for journalists working for The Herald and Weekly Times Limited,” the style manual begins.

Leave plenty of space, top and bottom, on each typewritten slip. Use at least double spacing. Don’t be mean with margins. Re-type dirty copy, and don’t cling to worn-out typewriter ribbons. 
The heading slip should not be numbered, but should carry the catchline. Folio numbering starts with the first slip of text.
When bylines are used on news stories they require a slip to themselves and are to be numbered “1. 
Put catchline and number in the right-hand top corner of each slip. Put your name, and the time on the left-hand top corner of the first slip. Time the last slip and also time intermediate slips when the report is filed in takes. 

Type each paragraph of your stories on a separate slip. This allows sub-editors to make changes quickly. 
Block out (in handwritten copy) or OK (in typescript) foreign or unfamiliar names: GEORG ARTUR SCHNITZEL 
Don’t overtype, especially on names or figures.
Allowing for normal heads, cross-heads and intro., 700 words of text make a column of The Herald [broadsheet], 400 words make a column of The Sun [tabloid].  
Allowing a 4cm margin on the left of your copy paper, each line of typing will make about TWO lines of single-column 7-pt. type. Each typed line will average eight words. That is, five lines of typing make about 2.5cm of single column type. 
On the basis of one paragraph to each typed slip of copy paper, about 20 slips fill a news column of The Herald after allowing for normal heads, intro. and crossheads. 
On the same calculation, about 15 slips will fill a news column of The Sun. 

editions, The Herald. – These are:
Final Extra
Football Final (Last Race)
Lock up time for pages 1 and 3 is 20 minutes before press time.
edition times, The Sun. – Copy closing times for The Sun usually are
First Edition … 10.25pm
Second Edition … 12.55am
Third Edition … 2.30am
Replates can be done until 4am or even later when the news is strong enough.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Typing away - in the background

On Thursday afternoon, a friend and I were working well into the hours after the final school bell. We'd found ourselves a nice grassy spot and were working on into the late afternoon. The intention being to finish everything and to sign off on the final pieces of assessment for the year. Then, we'd have Friday off.
My friend, to those walking past, would not have been a strange sight: he was working diligently away on a Macbook. I, however, was pulling faces and tensing my eyebrows as I intently composed some text at the trusty Olivetti Lettera 32. However, as the following picture demonstrates, I eventually gave up and was pressured into some gratuitous selfie-taking.

And this is typical of my typewriter activity since May - the last time I posted here. I continue to type, to read about typewriters, and to wax lyrical and consult on all matters typospherical (to those who do themselves the misfortune of asking), but as far as blogging is concerned, I've been dismally absent.
Other things continue to keep me busy: from presenting a weekly music program on community radio 2XX here in Canberra, where all the music aims to be broadcast from vinyl, to working on plays (where my script material usually starts out stretched across a platen of some description). In my blogging absence, I was also published by The Sydney Morning Herald.
(You can read it here: How school debating has ruined politics)
Naturally, it was written on the Olivetti! And it was followed in the next day's newspaper with a piece refuting everything I said: School debating is about more than lying - it helps bring kids out of their shell. I found the whole process to be wonderfully delightful. Even when someone suggested on Twitter that I should wait for my "balls to drop before writing errant nonsense".
So, the typewriter keeps clacking here even though the blog remains silent.
To the typewritten revolution!
JL - 20.11.2015

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Still typing…



I was photographically captured today at school looking bizarrely serious while merrily typing away, working on an English assignment. Luckily, I’m at a school that doesn’t bat much of an eyelid to an Olivetti Lettera 32; after all, we had spent morning tea listening to an LP of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture in the College common room (tomorrow we’ll be enjoying the Nutcracker suite).

Anyway, just a note to say that I’m alive, well, and, sure as an upcoming piece of assessment, still typing!

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Coming home and newsroom adventures

It seems that I’ve done it again: missed Typewriter Day. It must be the mark of a distracted Typospherian when they’re unable to keep on top of the important day two years in a row. And nor have I kept track of this blog, it falling once again into disuse – which, by now, seems to be its natural state.

Since my last update, from Germany, I’ve returned home, experienced a modern newspaper’s newsroom, drudged through however many weeks of school and generally felt like nothing short of meaningless homework has been achieved. And, after “burning the candle at both ends”, as my father puts it, I’m in bed with a cold, bitterly annoyed that I have to have a day off.

“But,” I protested to Father, “how else does one produce the amount of light required of us?”

Anyway, never mind that now.



A suitcase with two typewriters isn’t one that I would like to be carrying for a very long distance. Weighing exactly 30 kilograms, my typewriter-laden suitcase coming home from Germany was just on the limit. My coat pockets were then stuffed with goods, trying to keep the weight down on my carry-on piece.

“Should I declare the typewriter?” I asked

“It’s just metal, isn’t it?”

“Well, it does have a wooden case…”

“Yep, declare it.”

When I explained what the wood was to the lady in charge she simply laughed in my face and waved me through, obviously unaware that I was carrying two instruments of an on-going, international revolution.



After sleeping for two days, I returned to Sydney, the scene of my work experience, hurriedly planned  and assisted by a good deal of luck from Germany. I was to be spending a week with The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia’s most prestigious newspaper, mainly under the guidance of Kate McClymont, Australia’s premier investigative journalist.

I spent the first day at an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) inquiry hearing, with Herald journalists McClymont and Michaela Whitbourn, listening as the amazing claims of corruption were levelled at people connected to the Liberal Party of New South Wales(which leans centre-right).

Then, the next day, I spent some time with Julie Lewis, Co-Editor of the Letters Page; ringing up letter writers to check their quotes and request changes, cross-referencing quotes and ensuring it was all correct, watching as exchanges between the lawyer went back and forth regarding whether it was OK to imply that a prominent developer was “corrupt”, and ringing a former politician to ask whether we could label him as such.

The first half of Wednesday was spent with Paul Bibby, one of the Herald’s court reporters, a highly generous man who answered many of my questions. In court, we sat listening to a murder sentencing hearing at the Press desks which had been scratched with the names of court reporters since the 1910s. It was fantastic. On Thursday I was also out with Bibby, this time at another court for a different case. Bibby is very much the modern journalist – the type who sure, can take shorthand, but an also walk and write copy on his iPhone at the same time. It was very impressive to watch him work.

And then on Wednesday afternoon I was sent out on the crappy job: vox popping. My task: talk to some wealthy Chinese tourists, because some stats have come out that day suggesting they’re spending more money here. After walking around Darling Harbour and trying to prove I really was with the Herald with only a visitor’s pass, trying to talk to anyone who might have been from overseas on holiday, I had to head back, deadline approaching, having not tracked down a big-spending Chinese tourist. Perhaps feeling sorry for me,  a kind-hearted editor added with Jasper Lindell to the bottom of the story. Despite having no words of my own print, seeing my name there the next day was a very nice, warm feeling.

On Thursday afternoon I was once again at ICAC, with more sensational evidence flowing. McClymont met me out the front, after she’d just done a piece-to-camera for the web edition, telling me, “It’s been very exciting. The police minister has resigned…” It was obvious that counsel assisting the commission, Geoffrey Watson SC (a short, balding man of his own description, with a sense of humour and a record of a few swear words when he thought no one could hear), was having a ball.

That afternoon, former New South Wales state Labor (a centre-left leaning party) politician Jodi McKay gave evidence and was told that an allegedly corrupt developer had colluded with her own political party to undermine her re-election. She gave a press conference outside afterwards – the first one I’d ever been to in person. Rushing back to Pyrmont, the very nice suburb of Sydney just out of the CBD where the Herald office is located, I was assigned to transcribe the press conference. For my efforts, I got my name in print once again. McClymont said that I’d probably had the record number of by-lines for a work experience kid: two.

A newsroom is a place where it is never suggested that, Oh, tomorrow’s paper doesn’t really matter. It’s alive with conviction, abuzz with swear words, and an office where people work through the sunset into the night. But it had a feeling of half-emptiness…

The week after they left Fairfax Media, the owner of the Herald and a string of other Australian newspapers (including Robert Messenger’s former employer, The Canberra Times), announced newsroom cutbacks. I felt horrified – how they could take anyone out of that newsroom on Darling Island Road was beyond me; there’d be no one left.

(The journalists, not liking the sound of cutbacks, went on strike the week after I was there for 24 hours. The cutbacks, in a somewhat diminished form, are, as far as I’m aware, still going ahead.)

But I still haven’t been put off journalism.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

From the type-in in Basel + a world exclusive…


(Er, oops: that’s Maschinengeschreiben. These German verbs, I tell you.)

Get up to speed with the events – and peruse the photographic evidence – at Georg Sommeregger’s blog, here:


The above was typed on the Rhine – there was a bit of a race on to the end of the page; I cheated a little bit. The typecast below was typed while waiting for the boat to make out historic crossing:


Below: dispatches from two of the gathered agents –


It was well worth braving the slightly shorter night (day light savings came into effect, and affected the number of sleeping hours available) and the early Sunday morning to get the train to meet people who, previously, were just the mysterious figures behind blogs. Agent Z., too, who doesn’t have a blog, was also a pleasure to meet – although, I think he’s worried that I’ve started with typewriters so young.


Now, what’s this random picture of a Continental doing here? Long story short, I refer to it as my Inconvenience – I’m going to have to get it home from Germany. OK, so it’s a bit non functional (bearings need a bit of work and the draw band needs to be reinstated), but I just couldn’t leave it behind…

And then, I wasn’t allowed to live Switzerland without a Hermes Baby, either. The typewriter’s great (thanks Georg!) but now I have to get it home, too…




The above statement came about because we weren’t letting him go home without updating his blog; this was the next best thing and we relented. Besides, we had better things to do than to hold young Typosherians hostage.