London 'Times' Goes Retro With Stereo Typing

Robert Siegel speaks to Patrick Kidd, the editor of The Times Diary, about the sounds of mechanical typewriters piped into the newsroom of The Times in London. The idea is that the sounds will increase energy levels and help reporters hit deadlines.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We have a targeted quiz right now. It's for listeners born in the last, say, 20 years. And if there's an older person listening with you, no assistance please. We're going to play you this sound...

(MANUAL TYPEWRITER TYPING)

SIEGEL: ...Now, is that the sound of, A - dozens of people simultaneously using eggbeaters, B - a very crude tap dancing performance, C - a poorly-oiled push lawnmower, or, D - manual machines which your grandparents used to write with?

Well, if you answered D, you're right and you probably cheated too. That sound, the pre-computer, pre-word processor, pre-electric manual typewriter once clattered out in offices throughout the civilized world. And that is precisely what you can hear today in the newsroom of The London Times. The paper has not rid the place of computers or printers. But it has set up a sound system. And to explain that, we've reached Patrick Kidd, who is editor of The Times Diary. Welcome to the program.

PATRICK KIDD: Hello, great to be on.

SIEGEL: And why have you piped the sound of manual typewriters clacking into the newsroom?

KIDD: (Laughter) I suppose The Times has always stood for innovation, for respect for heritage and for a bit of eccentricity. And it's probably for all those three reasons. We moved to a brand-new office a couple of weeks ago and on day one, we were suddenly disturbed by the piped clickety-clack of the typewriter. This was the editor's idea to add a sense of excitement because in the old days, newsrooms were noisy places. They've become very quiet.

SIEGEL: I'm sure it is nostalgic to some of the older folks in the newsroom, but what do the younger journalists who didn't experience this sound in the past make of it?

KIDD: Well, I'm in my late '30s. I never worked on mechanical typewriters. I think on day one it was mildly irritating. (Laughter) But, as it went on - it becomes soothing actually; you get used to the rhythm. You start typing in concert with it. I think there were still some colleagues who'd get annoyed but, actually, my desk is the closest to the speakers and I - it's a bit of fun.

SIEGEL: Have you considered having lots of people smoke cigars in the newsroom too, just to have the right atmosphere? That you're inhaling as well as listening to?

KIDD: I think we should go back to the old days, I mean, we should have the stale smell of smoke. We should have the three-bottle lunch. We should have bigger expense accounts. No, I mean, it's time to move on I guess. And when I started at The Times, they'd only just got Internet. But I think a reminder of our past is a good thing.

SIEGEL: So is it here to stay? I mean, is this going to remain in place, this sound?

KIDD: I think so. Here's also one other thing to mention - I don't know if you have these in American newsrooms, but, we brought back green visors; eye shields. So some of the subeditors, I can see them now; have got them on to keep the glare off. And that's something that you used to see in newsrooms.

SIEGEL: You're saying that The Times, of London, it's going totally retro, is what you're saying?

KIDD: It's a - yes. Yes, I suppose everything gets repeated, doesn't it? But we're still very much at the forefront of modern journalism. It's a mixture of the two.

SIEGEL: Now, Patrick Kidd was speaking to us from a quiet place at the time. So we asked him to go out to the newsroom where we could actually hear the sound that people hear in the newsroom.

KIDD: And here we are, coming in the heart of the newsroom. We've got typewriter sounds coming out of a couple speakers there and everyone is still getting on with their work, not too irritated, I hope.

SIEGEL: Amazing - suddenly it's 1960. Thank you for that.

KIDD: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: That's Patrick Kidd, who is the editor of The Times Diary at The Times of London. They have piped in the sound into the newsroom - the sound of old manual typewriters.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

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