If you can easily read this, you probably worked in the linotype days

There’s an art to reading upside down. And, no, I don’t mean when standing on your head. I mean things that are on a person’s desk, facing away from you but you’re able to read it without that person giving a second thought to you reading what it says.

In the days of linotype machines, lines of type came out backwards. So slugs of hot metal type lay on the galley, ready to be placed on a page. Everything backwards, including headlines. I was working the sports desk at the Lexington Herald back in the late 60s, real early 70s and that means laying out the sports pages was the prime responsibility. But then the desk man would have to go to the composing room on the second floor, when the Herald and the Leader were headquartered on Short Street.

Want to check a headline for accuracy? Better be able to stand there reading it backwards and upside down.

Want to check a galley of type for the next story to go on a page? Better be able to read the start of the story, backwards and upside down.

Need to rewrite a headline but you don’t know what the story says? Stand over the galley and read the story, backwards and upside down so you can write a new headline,

(And my next biggest lesson in the composing room was this: Under no circumstances, never touch the type or even the galley. The composing room was union and if a non-union person touched the galley, the composing room foreman would throw the entire galley away. I did that once, wanting to help my composing room friend Sherwood Lawrence get his job done a little quicker. I picked up the galley, not knowing that was against union rules and turned to take it to Sherwood. The composing room supervisor grabbed the galley and acted like he was going to throw it in the bucket. Fortunately, he didn’t but lectured me on union rules and that under no circumstances could I touch any part of the galley. Lecture given, lesson learned.)

So this week, someone posted the above on their Facebook Page. Didn’t take but a couple of seconds to read the entire thing and took me back to the days of linotype, the composing room on the second floor, and yes, that lecture.

So give it a try, see how hard, or easy, it is for you to read it. Besides being backwards and upside down, there is one thing that makes it a little more difficult. ALL CAPS is the hardest of all type to read. So the ALL CAPS might slow you down a little but especially if you go back to the linotype days, you can make it through with little difficulty.

Over the years, I’ve done “Working with the Media” sessions for city, county and school officials, those who felt it important they have a better relationship with the media. Much of it was spent on telling a reporter “thank you” when they do a good story or have a good picture. And don’t be afraid to call them to complain about a story if something is wrong. But still, by the same token, also call them to say “thank you” once in a while.

I would tell them about my days at the Georgetown News and Times, covering respective meetings in Scott County and some of the things I discovered in taking time to visit with the mayor or county judge executive or school superintendent. Or any number of public officials. And I’d tell them about standing over the person’s desk and reading everything, nonchalantly, on the desk, even if it was upside down. Then I would pull out that page of the speech and show them the whole page I just read was upside down in my stack, on purpose, so that I could show them how it easy it is for a journalist to read something upside down.

But oh, the things I learned standing over someone’s desk, and reading a letter or memo or set of notes upside down.

Might be good for an upstart reporter these days — you don’t work with linotype but spend enough time and you can learn to read upside down.

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