“May I have an outside line please?”

That was one of the lines we found most humorous in the film.

It’s not that “All the President’s Men” was funny; it actually was a very serious movie about the June 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C.

This summer is the 40th anniversary of the scandal that ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon and we thought it apropos to watch the 1976 movie again.

Another reason we were compelled to do so is that we saw a fascinating television interview last month with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters who investigated the break-in.

They talked a bit about the Academy Award-winning film, based on their 1974 book of the same name, starring Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein and Robert Redford as Woodward. Many young people pursued journalism careers after seeing the movie.

While re-watching it this week, I and my husband Phil, a retired 35-year veteran newspaperman, found ourselves chuckling frequently — particularly at the changes in the newspaper business during the last 40 years.

The reporters used rotary dial phones in the newsroom in 1972, straining their necks to hold the receivers on their shoulders while taking notes. They did not use the more ergonomically correct headsets we enjoy today.

When Redford, as Woodward, needed to make a phone call from his desk, he had to ask the operator for an outside line.

Imagine having to do that now, with our modern touch-tone phones that have every function imaginable, from automated directories to conference calling?

The reporters of 1972 used typewriters, inserting a single piece of paper and ripping it out when a page was done and handing it to an editor.

Jason Robards, playing Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, sat in a chair, his feet up on another, poring over the copy as Woodward and Bernstein waited nervously for his reaction.

I remember when I started using a computer, approaching the keyboard with trepidation and then feeling a thrill when I discovered erasing a line was possible with one slick swipe of a key.

One of the differences I see between me and younger reporters now is that I still bang the keyboard as if I’m using an old Royal typewriter, while they’re tapping quietly away.

Phil and I were struck by a scene in the movie in which the Post editors — all men — attend a daily news meeting, hashing out the day’s stories, swearing and smoking up a storm in a conference room.

In those days, the newsrooms were thick with smoke. Bernstein chain-smokes throughout the film, not only in the newsroom, but also when he interviews people in their homes. He lights up without even asking if anyone minds.

If we reporters did that today, we’d be booted out of homes and newsrooms, never to be invited back.

“Is there any place you don’t smoke?” a nonsmoking Woodward asks Bernstein in one scene, set in an elevator.

The reporters rely heavily on phone books and other resource materials hardly relevant today, with the Internet at our fingertips.

The movie opens with the burglars sneaking around in the Watergate offices, using noisy, antiquated walkie-talkies to maintain contact with their cohorts in another location.

The movie seemed so modern when I was a college student watching it for the first time.

How things change.

Recently a young fellow reporter saw me clipping stories for my files and asked me what I was doing.

Clipping stories from newspapers and sorting them by subject was a practice reporters of 20 years ago did routinely, to keep accurate records and refer to the stories for background.

I still do it, despite the electronic archives we now access quickly with the click of a key.

There’s something about having that physical paper story in my hand — and knowing I’ll still have it if the computer world crashes — that gives me a sense of security.

Old habits die hard, I guess. While I can’t imagine going back to the old ways of newspapering, I’m still awed by how fast they disappeared.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 24 years. Her column appears Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]


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