Where Were We 20 Years Ago

If you’ve ever seen a movie that included scenes in an old-timey newspaper newsroom, you might have noticed one or more machines about the size of 1930s console radios clattering away in a corner and disgorging a continuous spew of paper. They were called wire machines. They carried non-stop streams of reports from wire services, most commonly The Associated Press and United Press International. They became dinosaurs in most newsrooms with the advent of computers that carried reports from The AP, UPI and other wire services.

Except for my office in the Los Angeles Courthouse. The one I had installed there in the early 1990s and that was still clattering away when I left the Los Angeles Superior Court in 2002, was provided by City News Service, a local version of the national and international big guys. It rattled away around the clock, burping out CNS-generated stories and reports on continuous-form tractor-feed paper that we only had to make sure didn’t run out of paper and to clear of jams (which did occur frustratingly often).

It was from a report that had come in sometime during the early hours of Monday, June 13, that I first learned about the murders of O.J. Simpson’s ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman.

It was a report of note, but not a real attention grabber. Our courts were filled with celebrity-related cases and Nicole Brown was an ex-wife, making the case even less likely to be of significant media interest.

Nevertheless, the office staff and I monitored wire-service reports belching out of the machine, not because we were celebrity watchers or O.J. Simpson fans, but because we most likely would be fielding at least some media calls. And also because CNS was our sole source of breaking news. The office couldn’t receive signals of any radio stations and our requests for a television with cable service wasn’t granted until after the Simpson case was in court.


Sometime later that day came the bombshell. Simpson was a suspect in the murders. We knew for a certainty that the case would, indeed, end up in court — unless Simpson pled guilty or someone else got charged with the crimes.

What we didn’t know, in fact, had no inkling of at that moment was just how huge the case would be and how it would consume us all for the next 16 months.


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