Back when I was loading my college semesters with courses in geology and photography, while pursuing a modest dream of becoming a disk jockey, I never set my sights beyond the next assignment at the college newspaper where I supplemented my spending money.

I spent winter, spring and summer breaks working at my hometown newspaper — a small daily operation in North-Central Kansas where I officially was titled, “pressroom assistant.”

On rare occasions, I felt what it was like to be a journalist — shooting photos at any number of events in the community.

My first “real” photography assignment at the newspaper was eighth-grade graduation, where I was challenged to find a suitable front-page photo depicting the event.

What they got was a grainy, slightly out-of-focus photo of a girl standing in line to receive a diploma.

Of course, she also might have been standing on the deck of a cruise ship, in the break room at an office or in a police lineup had it not been for the cutline, which explained the image in extraordinary detail.

In those days, my only concern was the mechanics of photography — making absolute sure the image wound up on a piece of 400-speed Tri-X black-and-white film.

Creativity was not yet born to me and often resulted in strange appendages sprouting from the tops of people’s heads because I didn’t check the background before clicking the shutter.

But that single, blurry shot helped me refocus my goal to becoming a better photojournalist.

Years later when I returned to my hometown newspaper as an employee, I was lucky enough to win a few photography awards through state press association contests and once from a national magazine.

I helped pick out their first digital camera and used to volunteer for any assignments where I could use it.

And, I began writing a weekly column.

A couple weeks ago at the annual press convention, I ran into my old boss – a career newspaper man, whose span as publisher has stretched more than 40 years and shows no sign of slowing down.

We talked about a myriad of things relating to those “old days” — when everything I knew about running a newspaper would have fit inside the canister where we kept rolls of film.

There may have been a little room leftover, also.

During a break in meetings at the convention, our conversation turned to the industry where I recently celebrated involvement totaling 24 years and how it’s progressed during that amount of time.

Sometimes, it’s hard to believe all the changes I’ve seen in newspapers — from days of paste-up and running “punch tapes” of news stories to the introduction of 8-inch floppy disks and eventually the Internet, digital imaging and most recently, video.

A friend told me photographers working in newspapers have become “visual journalists,” meaning they embrace a number of media for capturing a scene.

While I personally consider myself a photo purest, relying mostly on a digital SLR and occasionally reverting to a 35mm camera, as my former employer agreed, I’ll eventually be forced to take the next step in technology and accept the inevitable changes occurring almost every day.

We talked about trends, specialty products and computer software that really make things easier, today.

However, I was reminded through our conversation how enjoyable it is to share stories of how things used to be — just as my dad still likes talking about his days working around lead pigs, hot type presses and linotypes.

Perhaps it’s just part of the maturation process reminding us about where we are today and exactly how we got there.

Whatever the reason, it was good spending time with my former employer, bouncing ideas off one another and talking about our roots.

It also reminded me to make an effort to get together with him and share stories and challenges more often than the annual press convention.

Ken Knepper is publisher of The Newton Kansan. He can be contacted at