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Leroy wraps up over 50 years at a typewriter

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Daily Journal is marking its 75th birthday in 2005 by putting the spotlight on those who helped to make it successful over the years. If you have a story to tell about the role the paper played in your life, contact us at 431-2010.

By LEROY SIGMAN

Daily Journal Staff Writer

After returning from military service, it seemed appropriate to take a stab at college and thus I enrolled in Flat River Junior College. Since I had been out of school for four years, I was advised to start with a small class load and chose American History under Laura Ellen Wadsworth and a Social Studies class taught by Al C. Sullivan.

This had to be one of the shortest college careers in history. It lasted just two weeks. Miss Wadsworth was a fabulous teacher but her take on the taming of the West was much different than mine. She knew nothing of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Hopalong Cassidy. Her view of cowboys and Indians did not include the Lone Ranger and Tonto. As a result, in those brief two weeks I flunked two history tests and decided college was not for me.

There is no doubt that some of the biggest highlights in my more than 50 years as a reporter are some of the prominent people I have met. The greatest pleasure was a morning spent with President Harry S Truman at his museum in Independence.

Enhancing that experience was the fact that the former president was close friends with my father’s employer, Col. W. L. Bouchard, publisher of The Lead Belt News. Even though I was covering a meeting between Truman and then Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, Truman chose to spend more time with me than with Johnson. He even invited me to go fishing, a trip we never got to make.

When Johnson arrived at the museum, Truman walked out the side door to offer an unusual greeting. He stuck his hand out and told Johnson, “Let one old S.O.B. shake hands with another S.O.B.”

One goof on my part drew the attention of Truman’s Secret Service agents. I walked into the auditorium while he was playing the “Missouri Waltz” on the piano and took a photograph. I was promptly advised the former president no longer wanted such photos taken. As it turns out, mine was probably the last picture ever taken of Mr. Truman playing the piano.

I also got to meet Johnson, but he was not as cordial as Truman. He was very abrupt and even tended to be aloof toward the former president as they had not been great political allies, though both were Democrats.

Another pleasant day was spent with Vice President Hubert Humphrey during a campaign visit to Poplar Bluff in 1968. He was a candidate for president at the time and spent the entire day campaigning there. It was my honor to be the official photographer for the event and, using three cameras, took more than 500 photographs.

Humphrey was, in person, just as he seemed on television. He was very friendly, very gregarious. He spent hours greeting anyone willing to spend time with him. He also did not shy away from any questions posed him by local reporters, despite the presence of several big-name network news personalities.

Still another political bigwig I got to interview and chat with was Vice President Spiro T. Agnew. This was during a campaign visit to St. Louis a year before his political downfall. Like Humphrey, Agnew was very outgoing and did not duck questions tossed at him from all directions.

I also covered events involving Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, Vice President Gerald Ford and President Ronald Regan, but did not get an opportunity for close contact with any of them.

Over the years, I have covered to some extent every governor of Missouri since Gov. John M. Dalton with the exception of Gov. Joe Teasdale. The same goes for every U.S. Senator from Missouri from the days of Sen. Stuart Symington, with the exception of Sen. Jean Carnahan.

One of the most trying and rewarding assignments was covering The Great Flood of 1993 at Ste. Genevieve. I spent days and nights for three months in that historic river city watching tragedies and miracles alike. All told, I would guess that I wrote no less than 250 stories and had well over 100 photographs of the flood published during that period.

That flood was, to me, a repeat performance as I had covered the floods of 1973 and 1985 in Ste. Genevieve. It was amazing to see the people, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Missouri National Guard conquer the raging river on each occasion.

There has been no more humbling experience to me over the years than to cover events that feature our great military veterans. It has been an honor to spend hours at Veterans Day ceremonies and other such events. Even more rewarding have been the one-on-one interviews with such people as Jack Stegall, D. J. Hughes, Bob Silvey and the many other great men who served our country so well.

In the same vein, covering the deployment of the 1140th Combat Engineer Battalion, particularly Company A, was a major event that stirred both pride and some regret. This great group of men who will soon be returning home have served us well in a far-off land where so much is at stake. Let us hope that each and every one of them come home safely.

On another aspect of my career, let’s look at the changes I have seen over the years at The Daily Journal.

First of all the production side. When I returned, hot lead type was set on the huge Linotype machines with headlines done on the cumbersome Ludlow machine. Both used molten lead, a commodity not always safe to deal with. Pages were made up on flat forms and cast into lead tubes for the rotary press.

Then came offset printing, a process far advanced and offering greater versatility. First we punched tapes that printed the type of typewriter-like devices known as Justo-Writers. Later down the line the type was produced on photographic paper. In both instances the columns of type were pasted onto flat sheets and photographed for burning onto offset plates that were placed on the press.

Today, reporters have given up typewriters for the computer. Once a reporter finishes their story it is edited on the computer and sent to what is called pagination. There the stories and photographs are placed electronically on pages that go directly to the plate-burning operation to go onto the press. Except for proof sheets, paper has been totally eliminated from the process.

When I returned to the Journal in 1968 there were a total of six people on the news staff, including sports. Today there are 11 news people, not including the pagination personnel. This includes two news editors, five reporters, a sports editor and two sports reporters.

The way the news is covered has changed little in the 50 years other than there is much more focus on in-depth local coverage than there was before. The good thing is that the major focus of this newspaper does continue to be on the local news rather than the state and national news.

Well, this has been a lengthy and not too exciting recap of 50 years at a typewriter and computer. I hope it has not bored you too much, but if it has, maybe it helped you get some much needed rest.

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