Local Journalist Finds His First Reporter’s Notebook—and a Passageway to the Past

The pocket-sized relic is a portrait of his younger self, as well as of the journalism industry nearly half a century ago.

Illustration: Nadia Radic

In 50 years of writing for newspapers and magazines, technological change has been a constant. Stories once banged out on manual typewriters with a carbon-copy backup are now composed on a computer. Zoom offers an alternative to interviews done in person or by phone. Stories formerly mailed to magazine editors now arrive instantly via email.

Recently, I discovered a low-tech item that’s a reminder that some things stay the same: my first reporter’s notebook.

My newspaper career started in February 1974 as a part-time correspondent at Cam-Glo Newspapers, a chain of weeklies. I was 18 years old and a senior in high school, using loose-leaf paper attached to a clipboard to take notes. 

But when I started interning at the Gloucester County Times in December 1975, during my sophomore year at Rider College, I got an upgrade. Times night editor Charlie Schuck gave me a reporter’s notebook before my first assignment, and it felt like a step up, symbolizing professionalism and portability. The tan cover carried the designation Reporter’s Note Book (two words), with a space for my name and contact information. Measuring 8 inches long by 4 inches wide, it fit easily into a jacket or pants pocket and was less cumbersome than a clipboard. It was a case of less is more.

Fellow reporters at the Times were pleasantly stunned when we saw All The President’s Men in theaters in the spring of 1976. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, portraying Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, are shown in several scenes using the same notebook in covering Watergate. I later learned that Alan J. Pakula, the film’s director, had the Post newsroom painstakingly re-created on a sound stage, down to the type of notebooks used.

A glimpse inside Tom Wilk’s 1975 reporter’s notebook. Photo: Courtesy of Tom Wilk

Nearly half a century later, my notebook serves as a passageway to the past and a portrait of my younger self. My handwriting was neater, smaller, and not the hurried scribble of the 21st century. I managed to squeeze in three lines of writing where normally one would fit, striving to get the maximum use out of each page.

The stories I covered ranged from a Westville board of health meeting that dealt with a rat infestation to a review of The Pursuit of Happiness, a theater production by the Sketch Club Players of Woodbury. With steep reductions in newspaper staffing in the last 15 years, it’s a reminder that these types of stories largely go uncovered today.

My eight-week internship served as a springboard to more work at the Times; I went full-time in May 1977. (The Times ceased publication in November 2012, merging with two other papers to become the South Jersey Times.)

That notebook, the first of many I would use, preserves memories of a special time that could certainly fill a pad of paper.    

Tom Wilk wrote his first story for New Jersey Monthly on a manual Royal typewriter in 1990.

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