Digital Whiteout

Writing in the modern realm is a bit different than the old days of the early and mid-80s when I had my first gig as a freelance sportswriter. My first published piece goes back even further to a guest column I wrote in the University of Wyoming Alumni News concerning raising the drinking age to 21 from the then 19.

My premise was that if a 19-year-old could be drafted, they could drink as well. Adult is adult was my opinion at the time, it hasn’t changed over the intervening years.

I wrote that column on an IBM Selectric typewriter. You may remember those if you’re old enough. For those of you who’ve never seen a typewriter, it was a mechanical word processor devoid of fonts, spellchecking and had no error correction either aside from a bottle of whiteout.

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The world changed slowly in the publishing world. I wrote wrestling stories for the Lusk Herald from 1980 to 1983, getting a whopping six cents per column inch. I make much more than that per word these days in a variety of online publications I produce content for, (yes, that has easily outdistanced inflation)

I first wrote for the Riverton Ranger in 1984, covering small school boys basketball. My beat included the Jeffrey City Longhorns that year as well as Dubois, Wind River, Wyoming Indian, and Shoshoni, St. Stephen’s wasn’t a varsity program yet. I shot photos with my 35mm Pentax camera, had the film developed in the darkroom at the Ranger, and checked in Sunday evening to pound out my stories on their old-style, multi-user computer system. Most of the time it held together just fine. I learned the keyboard shortcuts for basic font changes, type size, and how to manually insert a paragraph. That was most of the time, there were a few mishaps.

During regional tournament play, I had so much copy I overwhelmed the memory capacity of the system, causing it to reboot and erasing everything I’d entered. I cut the stories into individual teams rather than the entire tournament, rewrote everything, and made it home by 2 a.m. for four hours sleep before I prepared for teaching the next morning.

By the fall of 1994 when I returned to the Ranger, I was able to write stories on three-and-half-inch floppy disks on my home PC and just drop them and the film off at the office. That was a vast improvement, but it too had its limitations.

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Covering seven Fremont County teams at the 1-A/2-A state tournament in 1997, I had to arrange to meet a friend for breakfast at Hell’s Half Acre so he could take the disks and film back to the office early Friday morning for the sports page. I had a full PC with a CRT monitor set up in a motel room that year.

Email solved those problems beginning in the late 90s. So did film scanners, instead of a photo, I just had negatives produced, scanned the ones I wanted, and saved them to a PC. Write a story, copy and paste it into an email, pick the photo, and email the whole package together to the office. What could be easier?

Well, a lot of things could have been easier and are today.

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By the time my 28-year tenure ended at the Ranger in early February, I was transferring SD card pics to my cell phone, writing courtside on a laptop, and sending photos and stories just minutes after an event ended.

My climactic piece was a story written at 1:30 am from the library at Wyoming Indian High School after the Chiefs won the Fremont County Shootout. I sent photos, and multiple stories from the library by 3 a.m., drove to Riverton and stopped by the Ranger to pick up the Sunday sports section 45 minutes later with my work the feature story, complete with a half-dozen photos. It was as close to instant journalism as you could get I thought.

Well, you know what you get for thinking?

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Writing is even more instantaneous these days. I use WordPress for many online venues, including County10, where you’re reading this.

The magic of having publishing access on a WordPress platform is that you can insert photos, text, video, and other file formats right into the story, and you can update information just as easily.

Last Friday afternoon I was traveling east on the Pennsylvania Turnpike with my son-in-law Adam driving the van filled with my wife Sue, daughter Staci and granddaughters Jayne and Norah. I picked up my cell phone to check my story about Shoshoni playing Cheyenne East the afternoon before when I saw a post from my friend and fellow coach Tim Ervin pointing out that my information was incorrect. I’d written the Wranglers had never played a team in Cheyenne before which was something I should never have missed since I was there on the sidelines in 1985 covering the game for the Ranger. Shoshoni beat Cheyenne Seton 18-7 at Okie Blanchard Stadium for the state championship. I guess after 42 years of writing, coaching, and a few more playing my memory is at times suspect. It was in this case.

Tim was right. In the old days, once a story hit the press, that was it, maybe a correction but they’re never that good. In the modern era, I had another option.

I asked Sue to pull my laptop out of the storage area behind the rear seat, put my phone in hotspot mode, and logged onto my County10 WordPress account. I corrected the error in a word document and was about to replace the text when I lost my cell phone signal.

Jayne noticed I was using the cell phone and asked me to load Disney+ on it and play “Alice in Wonderland.” What grandpa can deny his granddaughter a request like that?

I waited for a signal to return, started streaming Alice and the Cheshire Cat, passed the phone to Jayne, and returned to editing. Our route on the Turnpike took us through a series of four long tunnels as we approached Carlisle. The magic of technology came again when we entered those tunnels.

You would think a tunnel eliminated a cell signal but PennDOT solved that problem with digital signal enhancement in all their tunnels. We had a whopping 5G signal inside the mountains we crossed and didn’t miss a beat.

The merging of technology with the ancient art of writing, a skill that dates back in various forms over 6,000 years is remarkable. At least it is for me.

On a lighter note, back in 2008, we took a pheasant hunting trip to Dickinson, North Dakota. My son Brian was playing strong safety for the Blue Hawks, and I took Adam, his brother Phil and my friend Gino north with me for a long weekend of hunting and football.

I had high school football stories to write that weekend and had my notes, pics on a camera card, and a card reader for my laptop. I planned to interview coaches on the phone and write stories from the motel room. Making the late Saturday night deadline didn’t seem to be an issue. Only there was an issue.

The venerable No Dak motel, our home that weekend had an outdoor game cleaning station and large rooms, but their router was down, meaning no internet.

“It hasn’t worked all week. I don’t know why,” the elderly gal at the desk said.

Adam and I were both working in technology at the time.

“What do you bet the login and password is admin, admin or maybe admin, password?” I asked Adam.

He just grinned.

A few minutes later internet at the No Dak roared to life. Adam logged into the router, reset it, re-established the DHCP addressing, and brought the system back up.

After dinner and a few cold ones at Liquid Assets in Dickinson, I wrote, then emailed my stories.

The next morning, we stopped by the office and the gal at the front desk was ecstatic, “The internet came up by itself last night!” she exclaimed.

“Funny how that happens,” Adam said.

Technology, what a weapon when you know how to wield it.

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