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Life in Early Poverty Bay

The Early Press — Journalistic Reminiscences — “Copy” In The Seventies

page 144

The Early Press
Journalistic Reminiscences
“Copy” In The Seventies.

In the early days of 1878 the task of issuing a daily newspaper in Gisborne was one beset by many difficulties—as communication by steamer was very uncertain and frequent long delays occurred in procuring supplies of paper necessary for its production. The port was then served by the s.s. “Pretty Jane” from Auckland, and from the South by the s.s. “Rangitira.” At times it so happned that supplies would be out in the Bay for days before being available. On one occasion the stock of news print of both papers had run out, and this necessitated one journal having to search the town for a sufficient supply for its next issue. By good chance a few reams of white wrapping paper were unearthed in a merchant's store, which then stood on the site where the Band Rotunda is now situated on the riverside. The anxiety for the next issue was relieved by the “Jane” negotiating the bar and berthing at the wharf next day.

Being isolated, both by steamer and road communication, rendered it a difficult matter at times to supply sufficient “copy” to fill the columns of the then four-page daily issues. The local journals were prohibited, under severe penalties, from publishing either “cables” or “wires” until the expiry of a stated period had elapsed from them appearing in the “first grade' papers in the principal centres.

Hence the arrival of “exchanges” was eagerly awaited by sub-editors and it was no uncommon occurrence to insert “pars” and “wires” snipped from contemporaries and serve them up under “This Day's” headings.

On one occasion a popular advance agent of a touring concert company, scanning the current day's issue of one journal, exclaimed “Sure, this is some ‘News Buster!” Picking out certain items under ‘this day's interprovincial news, he declared he had read them in the South Island some days previously. The prestige of the paper was at stake! The prompt reply was: this was easily accounted for by Gisborne being geographically situated so many degrees “farther north.” The response was “Son, come and sell tickets for me in the box office to-night,” and half-a-dozen “complimentaries” for the staff handed out.

The composing room of the newspapers was the resort of many “old timers,” who would drop in with an item of news. A frequent visitor was a dear old partly crippled French priest — Father Chastagnon—always humorous and full of quaint sayings. Nothing would suit but that he must assist in some way, and finally he was provided with a pair of “cases” and a composing “stick.' Great was his delight when he was shown the “proof” of the first few lines, the result of some hours of “setting.”

On one occasion a disastrous fire threatened the destruction of the printing office, and it was deemed advisable to remove portion of the plant to a place of safety. The good Father, with the best of intention to help, was found endeavoring to move one of the heavy news “formes,” which providentially was rescued in time from being converted into a heap of “Printers' Pie.” A kindly, good-hearted soul was the little French “Pere.” In the early days, the delivery of the paper to the country subscribers was a matter of extreme difficulty, and it was a common occurrence for one day's issue to be delivered the afternoon of the day following publication. During several months of the winter season, the principal roads were veritable quagmires, with mud up to the horse's girths. It became quite a common practice to walk inside the boundary fences, leading the horse outside. The country “runner” had a most strenuous time, having to keep two and three horses at various places to complete his round. How different from the present conditions! Settlers are now served with a daily issue in all parts of the district within an hour or so of publication.