Acel Moore’s first newspaper job

Here’s a column that Acel Moore wrote about his new job as a copy boy at the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1962. He wrote it nearly 20 years later after being named an associate editor of the newspaper.

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Signs of change in the newsroom

May 28, 1981

Quite often, I think of the day in October 1962 when I first walked into The Inquirer newsroom as a copy boy, the term then used for newsroom clerks. My job was to sharpen pencils, clip and file newspapers, go to the library for clips, go for coffee, keep the copy moving.

There have been many changes in The Inquirer and in the newspaper business and in me (I was a skinny kid, then) since those days. In many ways, my promotion this week as associate editor of this newspaper is representative of some of those changes. To reflect on those changes and of those times, as I often do, is for me a profoundly sobering experience.

There were few blacks among the 3,000 Inquirer employees. The staff of the newsroom was almost always entirely white males.

I was hired by The Inquirer because a group of ministers, led by Rev. Leon Sullivan and other black community leaders, organized a very successful boycott against businesses in the city that had discriminated against blacks.

The late Orrin Evans of the Bulletin and Bob Thomas, formerly of the Inquirer, were the only black reporters in the city to work for daily newspapers. Evans was one of the first blacks in the nation to work for a major daily newspaper when he was a reporter for the old Philadelphia Record in the 1940s.

It took six years working as a clerk, going to school at night and learning everything I could about the business from people I worked with to become a member of the reporting staff. Most of the staff at that time started as copy boys or clerks. It was tradition.

I view the six years I spent working as an editorial clerk as a unique apprenticeship, one that I wouldn’t change if I had it to do over again.

Those were the days of manual typewriters, of police beats and of chasing fire engines. It was the era of the breaking news story and the hectic deadlines and six edition nights. There were even a few men on the copy desk who still wore green eyeshades; some even spit on the floor. It was a time when assigning editors gave orders with the bark of a drill sergeant and had the sensitivity to match.

It was also during that time that many of the major news events concerning the black movement occurred. The sit-ins in the South, the emergence of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a national leader, the profane eloquence of Cecil B. Moore, the urban riots and the call for black power all materialized during my first years at The Inquirer.

I was able to observe close-up how the media misinterpreted many of those events. I saw how racism and the exclusion of blacks from both employment and news coverage by The Inquirer and other news agencies impacted on the events daily.

I saw how blacks were only featured in crime stories, how stories about the masses of blacks were ignored. Only the extreme elements of the black community were news. Blacks never died, never married, never did the normal things that whites did.

Today there is little resemblance to the newsroom of 19 years ago. Gone are the typewriters, the green eyeshades and the grizzled, old editors.

They have been replaced by carpeted floors, computers and soft-spoken young editors. Instead of two black staffers, there are 20 and four black interns.

Despite the obvious changes, much more needs to be done. Racial discrimination and economic disparity still abound in our city and nation.

I still feel, with the same sharp pain, much of the frustration and anger and disappointment I felt when I first started in this business. Much of the frustration has been because I am a black striving to achieve in an institution and a society that has always been and continues to be disproportionately dominated by a white perspective.

I have seen many changes since the newsroom was practically an all-white all-male enclave. I am encouraged by them. I also see the challenges ahead for blacks and for newspaper coverage in the black community. Employment opportunities and newspaper coverage are better for blacks now than they were in 1962, and my hope is that they will be even much greater 19 years from now.

 

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