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New Telegraph newsroom opens near Mercer University

It was half a century ago the last time the people who produce this newspaper -- the ones who daily write and edit and piece it together into the night -- did so anywhere other than at the foot of Broadway, a few paperboy’s lobs from the Ocmulgee River.

But today’s Telegraph was birthed on the other side of downtown, a 3-minute walk from Tattnall Square Park.

The paper -- and online postings all day Wednesday -- took shape in a new newsroom at the Montpelier Avenue-edge of the Mercer University campus, part of an endeavor that before long will provide journalism students with hands-on training.

The Peyton T. Anderson Newsroom, named for The Telegraph’s former owner and publisher, is perched along the edge of a freeway embankment just up Interstate 75 from where Porter Stadium once stood. It is one component of a partnership with Mercer and Georgia Public Broadcasting known as the Center for Collaborative Journalism.

During a toast to mark the occasion Wednesday afternoon, Sherrie Marshall, the paper’s executive editor, told staffers, “Let’s give ’em hell.”

Despite the almost festive, dawn-of-a-new-era atmosphere, vacating the newsroom’s second-floor quarters at 120 Broadway, the paper’s home since 1961, came with its share of nostalgic pangs.

“There are so many great people who have worked here over the years, who have given their lives to this place,” Oby Brown, the senior editor for local news, said the other day. “It’s just strange to move. You’re kind of moving out of the home you grew up in. It’ll be great to be in the new place, but it’s not without sadness. ... A newspaper office building is something of a symbol in a town.”

Aside from the paper’s farming out its printing operation in recent years to a press in Columbus and now in the Atlanta suburbs, Wednesday’s move is the biggest in-house shift since the old Telegraph and Macon News merged in September 1983.

An announcement of the papers’ marriage came 29 years ago in a four-paragraph item on the front page of the new Macon Telegraph and News. The message to readers ended with a nod to some of the papers’ combined glories, notably that there would be “two pages of comics ... and two crossword puzzles.”

In its years at the corner of Broadway and Riverside Drive, where trains rumbled past as loud as the printing press, the paper covered the most prominent regional and local stories of the 20th century’s latter half: integration, Jimmy Carter’s 1976 presidential run, the Great Flood of ’94.

Barbara Stinson, a former managing editor and editorial page editor who started at the News as a features reporter in 1974, spent a career that spanned parts of four decades at the Broadway office.

“The place is less important than the people and events we covered,” she said. “Changing buildings is sad, but it’s not the most important thing. The building was never important.”

Former reporter Skippy Davis joined The Telegraph in 1977 when reporters wrote their stories on IBM Selectrics. Yes, kids, typewriters.

Davis, who staffed the Dublin bureau and later wrote features from the Macon office, said, “I can’t imagine that newsroom empty with no one in it. I think about (editor) Billy Watson and of course (columnist Bill) Boyd and (editorial page editor) Ed Corson. ... They’re all there still in spirit and wondering where you guys have gone.”

In recent days, the newsroom staff moved into its new digs on the first floor of Phase II of The Lofts at Mercer Village, a multimillion-dollar, mixed-use development. Down a hallway on the same floor are classrooms for journalism students, where instruction will soon begin. Nearby, GPB will have a studio where journalists will be able to edit their work for radio and the Web.

Officials announced plans for the journalism center in December when the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation awarded $4.6 million in grants for the initiative. The Knight brothers once owned a chain of newspapers, including The Telegraph.

It was under that ownership when the paper won a Pulitzer Prize for specialized reporting. Brown recalled the day of the Pulitzer announcement in 1985.

Champagne popped in the newsroom. But there was still work to be done, and staffers still had the next day’s editions to crank out.

“It wasn’t like you could hoist toasts indefinitely,” Brown said.

The same could be said of the animated air in the newsroom Wednesday. Deadlines loomed while construction workers were still drilling holes, mounting cabinets and stringing wires.

Reporters came and went. News happened and they covered it. Just from a different address.

Sure, newsrooms have their own personalities, their own heartbeats, their own breed of characters, but they’re more or less just the hives where the headlines get written.

As Greg Jones, a former Telegraph assistant metro editor who worked nights on Broadway for much of the 1990s, used to put it, “Ain’t no stories in here.”

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.

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