Friday, August 2, 2002

Features

A small-town newspaper grows up: People, technology and office space

In 1972, a small newspaper began its life in the home of Gabor and Bonnie Miskolczy on Cross Street. It bore almost no resemblance to today's Mosquito. Headlines and advertisements were hand-written. News and feature articles were typed on different machines, with varying sizes and styles of type, and pasted into columns. Photographs? None. Instead, drawings by Carlisle's children. However, even if it was quaint, the Mosquito was full of information and character, and it caught on. As Kathy Coyle put it, "There was a sense of adventure!"

As the newspaper grew, it moved several times. It took up residence initially in what was the former Congregational Church, at the corner of Church and School Streets, at that time the temporary home of the Carlisle Post Office (later to become the home of Howard and Janice Hensleigh). Kind as all its "landlords" were, the spaces they lent the paper had built-in problems: St. Irene, for example, had multiple uses, so the Mosquito staff had to clear away their donated manual typewriters and all their papers after every work-week ended on Wednesday, and prepare the room for its next occupants. After a number of moves around town, the Mosquito landed in half of a two-car garage at the South Street home of Mary Diment, where it remained for a number of years.

Office in a garage

Diment's garage made for cramped operating space, but it was a real office for the paper, and the recently widowed Diment enjoyed company three days a week as the staff came and went. She was always bringing in coffee or iced tea and homemade goodies, and joining in parties for birthdays and holidays. The St. Patrick's Day party was famous for its Irish coffee and Irish whiskey cake, taken during the lunch break between noon and 1 p.m. Feature editor Marilyn Harte remembers "working on top of each other in close quarters," but "with the warm, intimate feeling" that Diment helped foster.

General Manager, Susan Emmons, remembers lively debates, as strong opinions about town events flew across the room during working hours. Veteran typesetter, Betty McCullough, adds that "editors had to fight for their authority," as there was "no hesitation about disagreement." Advertising fought with news and features for space in the burgeoning paper, and each side had its advocates. Typesetters and reporters were always at odds over deadlines and copy: "if a reporter brought in typed copy," says McCullough, "we were so happy. Some routinely came in with material in illegible longhand, invariably late." A lack of proofreading standards meant one reader might make a correction and the next would remove it. As a result, Wednesday afternoons, when the finished product had to go to the printer, were "hysterical." Still, McCullough asserts that there was a "circular learning process." People "passed on whatever they learned to others, and gradually standards and time-saving techniques were established."

The real shape of today's Mosquito began in the Diment garage, despite its spatial drawbacks, as well as a leaky roof, insufficient ventilation, and heating that came through a duct leading from Diment's house. Mosquito workers and their families tacked up screens, caulked, painted, and invented ways to stop draughts. They set up boards and tables along one wall for galley sheets, and the advertising staff had a desk pushed up against the garage door. In one corner was a huge Compugraphic machine, which allowed a typesetter to type one line of text at a time. Large containers of the machine's processing fluid were stored in that corner as well, and McCullough recalls not being able to "wear anything you cared about because the stuff was an acid that would eat through anything." Correcting errors was complicated by the fact that the wet strips of paper text which emerged from the Compugraphic had to be pinned up on a clothesline to dry. Marjorie Johnson, today an Assistant Editor, remembers learning all about layout in the Diment garage, and says that photographs were sized according to orange squares of paper cut to fit the space they would occupy in the finished paper.

Over time, came improvements in space and technology. Two of the first Macintosh small business computers were donated, and Carlisle computer savants George Foote and John Terrey gave the staff lessons in word processing and printing. The office was expanded to cover Mary Diment's entire garage. Susan Emmons credits Janine Baker, who taught computer science at Minuteman Technical High School, with giving some of the first lessons in software to the Mosquito staff. The progress from line corrections to clean sheets made a huge difference in man-hours spent in production, but Emmons says that the "first printers were so slow that we would still razor out words and paste corrections in."

The Mosquito is located now at 872 Westford Street, formerly the home of Grant and Helene Wilson. Soon after the paper, first moved into these quarters in 1999, it shared the space with the Gleason Public Library, which was campied there while the new library addition was being built. Marilyn Harte remembers "very friendly relations with the librarians, who helped us in our research and shared celebrations with us." Updated computers, more terminals, and finally new space improved the technical quality of the paper. Today the Mosquito's typesetters use Adobe Pagemaker on new Macintosh computers which are networked throughout the office. Reporters fax or e-mail their material to their editors. Digital cameras and scanners are in regular use. Today's Mosquito is, as Marjorie Johnson puts it, "more professional." There are standards for consistency across editing, reporting, typing, proofreading, and layout and an insistence on quality in every aspect of production. These days, Wednesdays in the office are busy, but far from hysterical. There is room to move, and although tension may be quieted by the greater space and modern technology, there is still a great deal of give and take, as well as dedication to the values which gave the Mosquito its start thirty years ago.


2002 The Carlisle Mosquito