January 9, 2000

 

The Sometimez, Sometimes, Sun Times, Sun

Antarctica's rich history of reporting

By Billy-Ace Penguin Baker

Special to the Sun

The distinction of "the world's southernmost newspaper" goes to the Antarctic Sun. However, it wasn't always so; this is the story of how the McMurdo Sometimez evolved through the many years of its publication.

The McMurdo Sometimez was the first Navy newspaper at McMurdo.It succeeded the McMurdo News, published during the International Geophysical Year.

Originally the Sometimez was a product of the Navy radiomen working in McMurdo, who produced the paper on a volunteer basis as time permitted. "Sometimez" the night watch could make a paper and "sometimez" they couldn't. The name was in use from at least 1960.

When I arrived at McMurdo in 1962, the radiomen were producing a daily morning newspaper consisting of a few sheets of text composed on a teletype and printed on a ditto machine.

Because of its relatively small size, hundreds of copies were printed. Most were dropped off at the galley in the early hours just before the morning meal. Copies were also distributed to Williams Field, Scott Base, outlying stations and ships operating nearby.

During the winters of 1967 and 1971, management exercised its authority, and bureaucracy reared its ugly head.

Censorship was a real nightmare to all of us who worked on the paper. Even though we produced it on a volunteer basis, usually in our free time, we still had to bow to the might of authority.

Because of the inclusion of the official weekly calendar, the paper was considered a house organ with official status.

Additionally, the paper was produced using government equipment and supplies, and, after all, most of us were members of the U.S. Navy.

Looking back, I wonder what all the fuss was about. Most of the objectionable material related to U.S. involvement in Vietnam and to a hippie-like guru named Mehar Baba.

In 1971, in addition to the censorship board, a military advisor was assigned to prevent controversial editorial material.

I was appointed military advisor, but in each edition of the paper some of the offensive and anti-military material still managed to get past my critical eye, and I was frequently called on the carpet about it.

There were no women in the winter-over parties during any of the four winters I spent there. But the censorship board deemed that the more risque material was sexist, demeaning, in poor taste and bad for the men's morale and character.

In the early 1970s, the Navy began sending journalists to the Ice. They were a summer-only contingent, meaning that the regular summer paper was often published during the winter with volunteers.

In October 1972, a salvaged platemaking machine was recovered from the Washington Navy Yard and taken to Antarctica, along with cases of metal plate and liquid chemicals to put the newly renamed McMurdo Sometimes into operation.

A Jamesway hut, known as Pressheim, which had been used as a berthing and working space for visiting media representatives,was converted into a production room for the daily newspaper.

After long hours of frustration and, at times, what seemed like an almost impossible situation--frozen chemicals, dry and brittle plates and negatives and thick ice--the first issue ofthe new paper came off the press November 5, 1972.

The journalists took news copy from the military broadcast feed, and managed to salvage a photocopier. With this equipment and personnel dedicated to the task of publishing a daily newspaper the journalists assumed the entire production, publication anddistribution of the Sometimes.

Almost 400 six-page copies were produced each day. The paper included three pages of world and national news and one page of sports. There was also a feature page and comic section.

In addition to the circulation at McMurdo, Williams Field and Scott Base, the new Sometimes was delivered to South Pole Station, Byrd Surface Camp, Siple Station and remote field parties.

The journalists recruited the help of the pilots to deliver the paper to outlying stations, field parties and ships. Each day, as the VXE-6 pilots filed their flight plans, they would stop by to pick up an envelope of papers.

By October 1974, the newsroom and production office had been moved from Pressheim to Building 155. It was located in a room adjacent to the radio and television studios and it remained there until I left, following the austral summer of 1980.

In 1976 we stopped using the platemaking machine. In spite of the almost unending problems with the replacement equipment,the paper continued to make its daily schedule during the summer months. The content and format of the paper changed very little between 1974 and 1980, with the exception that in 1980 a new masthead was introduced.

The Navy journalists continued to publish the paper from 1980 through February 9, 1997, changing the name to the Antarctica Sun Times and using the old cut-and-paste method for composition and layout.

By 1995, computers and digital cameras were used for production. Although local distribution at McMurdo was still done on paper, worldwide distribution was via e-mail and the Web.

With the decommissioning of the naval detachment in Antarctica on March 13, 1998, Antarctic Support Associates assumed full responsibility for the newspaper. Antarctic Support Associates later shortened the name to the Antarctic Sun.

RMC Billy-Ace Penguin Baker, USN (Ret) has been involved with the McMurdo Sometimez and its successors since 1962.

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