When newspaper reporters were hot — the 100-word version

Helicopters. Hot metal print. Faked photos. Police scanners and running engines. Even if you're not a journalism wonk, outgoing Wall Street Journal managing editor Paul Steiger's recap of his years in the golden age of newspaper reporting is an engaging read, all 2,963 words of it. If you just want the dirt, I've pullquoted Steiger's dead-bird story, plus the time he asked for a helicopter to do some reporting. Does Pajamas Media have one of those?

I remember walking past a photographer's open car trunk and noticing that he carried a well-preserved but very dead bird among his cameras and lenses. The bird, he explained, was for feature shots on holidays like Memorial Day. He'd perch it on a gravestone or tree limb in a veterans' cemetery to get the right mood. Nowadays such a trick would get him fired, but in the 1950s, this guy said, there was no time to wait for a live bird to flutter into the frame.

In 1979, one reporter got the idea of flying over refineries and tank fields to look for evidence of gasoline hoarding. As the editor running the coverage, I asked my bosses for approval to hire helicopters or small planes for a story. The answer: Go right ahead.

Why is Steiger leaving the Journal now? Because he's 63 years old. "Retirement," a more insidery Journal reporter tells me. "He was set to go a long time before the Murdoch thing ."