About once a day I step out of my small office here in The Herald-Dispatch newsroom to listen for ghosts.
When I do, the walls are no longer institutional white, but 1970s-era brown wood paneling. Instead of a few people working in a quiet, dimly lit environment, I hear phones ringing and people talking loudly with each other, sometimes shouting questions across the room. The haze of cigarette smoke often makes me want to retreat to the Ironton bureau.
The ghosts I hear are Jack Hardin working the phones hour after hour. Come December he'll walk around the newsroom singing "Silver Bells." Speaking of walking around the newsroom, that's what Tim R. Massey is doing, telling each person he encounters about the story he needs to write right now. Photographer Lee Bernard is laughing about something or grumbling about something else.
Harry Fisher winces at something he sees or hears, but a smile returns to his face as he realizes everything is copacetic. Bill Belanger is typing up an arts story on a computer terminal and asking how you get Channel 8 on the thing. Dave McGuire is laughing while he tells one of his stories, or else he's griping about how someone needs to be invited to a corn cob and turpentine party. Tom D. Miller is off in Charleston doing something at the Capitol.
What functions as my office was, back then, the building's switchboard room, where Arella Muncey or Gloria Perkins would answer the phone with, "Herald-Dispatch, USA Today. Can I help you?" Arella's Logan County accent made that question a delight to hear.
Elsewhere in the building, Jerry Epling is making sure the composing room and the press room get the paper out on time.
The people mentioned above have all passed away, along with many others, such as Maurice Kaplan, Frank Altizer, Jack Burnett and Ernie Salvatore.
There are other people who have moved away whose voices I would like to hear in a newsroom again. I worked alongside Rose Roccisano on many stories. We worked so well as a team we called ourselves Rossisano. Amy Marchese was a worthwhile partner on the business beat. Patrick Foose and Dana Tomes were usually good for a laugh or two. James McMiller, Dave Malloy and I shared a lot of insider stories about Lawrence County, Ohio, and the people we met there.
So many others have come and gone, and most left a memory, whether good or bad.
Fran Allred's style of editing, Tim Grobe's puns, the sports department's nicknames for one another (Dude, Saus, Dipper, Krusty, Iceman, Hedge and others) there were so many things from those days I wish I could bring back to the newsroom for our young staff to experience daily.
When I was their age, I mourned the deaths of others because they were no longer in my life. Now I see that death, retirement and moving on deprive younger generations of the knowledge, stories and advice that need to be passed along.
My first day of work at The Herald-Dispatch was Aug. 21, 1978. No one in today's newsroom was here then. Most of them weren't even born yet. The news business then was much, much different from what it is now. I wish this generation could experience one day of what mine did. As an added benefit, it would be nice to see how the old guard would use the tools available to today's reporters. That would be a conversation worth covering.
Jim Ross is Opinion Page editor of The Herald-Dispatch. His email is jross@HDMediaLLC.com.