Tony Potter has been a journalist since 1955. He worked in London’s Fleet St, then the
Auckland Star and several other Auckland newspapers.
“Grandpa,” asked Ryan, 7, “was there life before Google?”
Despite an urge to harrumph “Go away and Google it”, he had a good point; what was there before Google?
In the old days, when computers had now-forgotten names like LC Smith and Underwood (and were much noisier), when newspapermen
— it was mostly men — were expected to go out of the office and interview people called “contacts”, there were other avenues of
Newspapers had things called libraries, where no such new-fangled concepts as equal employment opportunities applied.
To be a librarian you had to be a woman. They were brilliant, they could find clippings about things you never knew existed.
But if it was a case of actually dragging down a bound volume of newspapers, usually collated in threemonth collections, you did it yourself.
Those things weighed a ton and no self-respecting librarian was going to get it down for you.
Many reporters would spend hours in the library, although I suspect many were trying to
hide away from the chief reporter or news editor, or trying to chat up the newest recruit.
Not all lady librarians were chosen for their brains.
For further reference, there was the Auckland Central Library and the US Consulate’s library in Shortland St, staffed by a wonderful woman who most certainly was chosen for her brains.
They also had telephone directories for each state and the latest issues of Sports Illustrated and the New York Times.
But as some bloke will now tell you, the latter publication is all fake news.
Auckland University was brimming with information, freely supplied, often by professors with witty throwaway lines.
A chap by the name of Mr Williams could usually find an expert on Middle Eastern Affairs, sex habits of ex-US Presidents or differences between Lancashire and Yorkshire humour to call you back before deadline.
Finally, there was the contact book, beloved of old farts like me, usually written in code so other ambitious swine couldn’t filch information, with a list of people who knew things.
Need an expert on the Beatles? Keith Quinn was your man (probably still is). National Anthem? Get me Max Cryer.
I even had a cricket expert who claimed to know, in order, each scoring shot of Wally Hammond’s 336 at Eden Park in 1932 against New Zealand.
Please don’t laugh, one day it might be needed. Although, it’s almost definitely on Google.
You could look it up, he harrumphed.
Tony Potter’s career began in 1955.