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.


  1. You've been enamelled by style guides? I wasn't aware they emitted paints. :D

  2. Jasper, you had me at enamelled :-) For copy checking and consistency I was always pointed at our own Guardian style guide . Someone must have had a copy because that was in the days before such a thing would be online (on-line?) but it was always reassuring to have it on the shelf.

  3. I probably have some old style books lying around here, remind me to look next time you're over. On the Irish Press and NZ journos Facebook pages, it's interesting to see how often people comment that when reading or writing today, they can't get "old" style teachings out of their heads. It's a curse. Style books/guidelines weren't always absolute gospel. In WA, they had some peculiar but stringent style directions on certain phrases. Today, it seems "common usage" is an excuse for any old type of shite that appears online or in print. Nobody cares anymore. Make it up as you go along. Style was always about only one thing - consistency throughout the book, that's all.
    PS: Old timers like Paul "Scoop" Rooney wouldn't have cared to much for the typing instructions. Scoop started in the war years when newsprint was in short supply and copypaper was used to the limit - including the edges. But then Scoop usually phoned his copy in. I used to try to imagine a Linotype operator setting his copy off the original.

  4. PPS: Take a leaf from the Crispin Hull or Bruce Juddery book of excuses = blame the spell check. A good sub would have picked it up. But of course no such thing exists anymore - and those who typed stories on A5-sized sheets of newsprint offcut copy paper are in short supply too! Ahh, those were the days!

  5. Hey Jasper I am totally enamelled of you! Stuck on you, in fact.
    Teenager with a typewriter and a penchant for style books: very unusual.
    Love your blog. Keep it up.
    BTW I have a copy of the SMH style book....

  6. I wish we Mexicans had such a kind of books over here, in our country...xD