How different was it in 1966?

In July we heard the sad news of the passing of Peter Farago. Farago was a former editor of Chemistry in Britain (now Chemistry World) and died at the beginning of June after a prolonged illness. He was in the job for more than 20 years and from (almost) the very beginning as he joined Chemistry in Britain in 1966, its second year of existence. After such a long spell at the helm of the magazine, many of our readers are likely to remember him. So if you remember him and what Chemistry in Britain was like then, and would like to share those memories, please do write to us. I never met Farago personally but he obviously played a very important role in shaping what the publication has become today and we owe him an awful lot.

The life of a journalist must, in some ways, have been very different then, with only a telephone, typewriter and postal mail to reach out to readers, contributors, editorial board members and advisors. However, the pace must have been frenetic. Tasks that these days take seconds or minutes to complete, such as sharing a proof with a columnist, would have taken days if not weeks. And of course the atmosphere in the office must have been very different. Somehow I imagine it being noisier than it is today, with the clacks, clunks and zips of the typewriters providing the background soundtrack. Even more of the work must have been done face to face, with editors and journalists travelling across the country to meet researchers and visit labs and facilities. Having a healthy list of contacts to draw on was probably even more important then than it is today. 

There are fundamental differences when compared to 1966 that have changed our industry for the better. Nowadays we have every tool at our disposal to make our job easier: electronic flat plans, digital recorders, cheap and reliable telephone connections. I can’t even begin to imagine how to do our job without email, internet or printers, which of course had not even been invented then. Before automated flat plans, the magazine would have been laid out by cutting pages out and gluing them onto a template. You’d struggle to find a pair of scissors and Pritt Stick in our office.

Today, a large proportion of our time is spent not searching for content but selecting the most relevant. Although we can suffer from information overload, a myriad of sources are available to us. With the advent of the internet, information gathering and sharing are now more democratic, and small and big publishers often have access to the same sources at the same time. The internet allows anybody to be a publisher and put their opinions out there – everybody has a voice and we have to be even quicker and more responsive to remain competitive.

In some ways it is a different business but I think this job still attracts the same people as it did then, with a passion for communication and pride in delivering a top quality product. Farago was renowned for enjoying long networking lunches with his staff (to motivate them, of course) so I’m quite sure I would have liked him had I met him.