Reflections on the 30th Anniversary of “The Dream Series”

The logo is 30 years old now, and looks its age.  In that pre-Photoshop era, it was laboriously created by hand, with physical layers of text, photo and black tape on a two-column backing cut from a newspaper layout page.  (The light blue typography guides didn’t show up when the page was shot back then — my 21st Century scanner uses different technology.)

I slapped the logo on the inside cover of my 1980 AP stylebook after the conclusion of what all of us referred to as “the Dream series.” I still have the stylebook, and the logo is not going anywhere — it was designed to be moved and reused, but the paste has fused the logo to the book cover.

What may be the greatest speech in American history (Gettysburg? Please.) led to what undoubtedly was the most lucrative week of my brief career in journalism.  I was on the night copy desk at what was then The Home News, a family-owned, 60,000-circulation newspaper in New Brunswick, NJ.  For the 20th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, a team of reporters wrote a huge, week-long series of articles examining race relations and issues in Central Jersey from every perspective you can imagine.  (There was even an article about racial imbalance at The Home News itself — I think there were seven or eight black employees out of a workforce of perhaps 200.  The article carefully noted that union contracts compelled the company to hire its typographers, printers and drivers from among the membership of the respective trade unions — and all of those employees were white.)

I’ve lost track of the tear sheets, unfortunately, but as I recall the series included two to three full pages of articles every day for seven days, or maybe it was five days, in addition to the normal news hole.  It was a huge commitment of staff and other resources for a small daily.

The powers that be decided they wanted one editor to do all of the copy editing, headline writing and layout for the series, to give it a consistent look and feel.  That editor was me — and I was told to do it all on overtime, because they couldn’t spare me from my regular duties.  So after each day’s local news was put to bed, I started working on the following day’s batch of Dream series stories.  I ended up putting in for my normal 37.5-hour work week (union contract, you know) plus 37.5 hours of overtime, because that’s what it happened to total.  The payroll department thought I was putting in for a week’s vacation pay in advance, so they paid it out at straight time, and corrected it to time-and-a-half the following week.

The New Jersey Press Association gave the paper a special award for the series, along with a $1,500 prize.  The company matched the prize and passed out low-three-figure bonuses to the reporters, and to a copy editor who already had been well-paid for the project.

I was five years old when Dr. King gave the speech, and most of the reporters on the Dream series were around the same age.  We all marveled at the impact of this man and this speech, and at what had (and had not) changed in 20 years.  None of us dreamed that the 50th anniversary would arrive with a black man in the White House.