Tape Recording in the 50s and 60s

When I was about 12, I became obsessed with having a reel-to-reel tape recorder (the only kind available at the time). The Wollensak was the most popular, but I preferred a larger, bulker unit from Voice of Music, shown here: image

Instead of having a meter needle to track volume level, it had a green vacuum-tube display that operated on either side of a vertical line like butterfly wings. This was in the arched control unit just to the right of the pushbuttons in the photo above. The idea was to set the volume so that the loudest parts of the music would have the wings come together from horizontal to vertical so they were just touching. The two plastic disk-type knobs to the left of the buttons kept track of minutes and hours of elapsed time. And yes, it came with the microphone shown in the rear compartment, which was of pretty decent quality.

I got a lot of mileage out of my machine. One of the main uses I applied it to was recording dozens of reels of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, which broadcast from Philadelphia in those days on my local Philadelphia ABC affliate (WPVI, Channel 6). I did this because (a) I was really into Rock’N’Roll, like about 98% of the other kids my age, and more importantly, because (b) “everyone” who was supposed to be an authority on this kind of thing was absolutely certain that this “junk” music would never last, and that in fact it would fade away and be forgotten, discarded like old newspapers. I tended to doubt that, but at 12 years old, I was willing to give those authority figures the benefit of a very big doubt. Besides, I had a ball doing the recordings, and was glad to have an extensive music collection without having to pay for it [I had no idea I’d be able to do that again 50 years later….]

I kept those tapes, and still have them along with the VoM tape recorder, although I’ve never gone back to play them. I’ve been too busy, I have CDs full of DooWop and 60s music that are more accessible, and plenty of other things to do. But I am still pleased I put in the time and effort to make that historical record, even if it is now more of an “archive.”

Technical and Other Details
One of the things I most recall about creating this archive is the unmistakable acetone smell or odor of the mylar or acetate quarter-inch reel-to-reel tape itself. I assume most of you have handled and used tape cassettes from the 1970s and later. These also had that smell to a certain extent, but reel-to-reel tape had a much more pungent aroma. image

imageBoth mylar and acetate substrates were commonly available. The mylar was just a tad thinner, but stronger, although it had a tendency to stretch a bit (not good!). This was the tape of choice for the longest length reels. But there were other considerations. A one-hour tape (at the faster speed for better recording quality) was more durable and easier to mount, wind/rewind, and to splice than a two-hour double-length tape. Mylar, being a bit stronger, was the choice for the longer, and acetate — much cheaper — was my choice for the shorter length. 

But there was another consideration: while you could get more bang for the buck with a two-hour tape, since it was thinner you also had to be aware of the possibility of the recorded signal “bleeding through” the tape onto the next wrap of the reel, which created an unacceptable (to me) delayed slight-echo effect. It was delayed nearly two seconds, so it was hardly an echo. It was simply bleed-through interference. It helped not to have the tape too tightly wound, but you couldn’t always control that. And having it too loose was even worse. It took practice, but I did manage to get rather good at handling these reels. Over time, though, if the tape is not played, or at least wound-rewound at high speed, it tends to bleed through anyway. I’m beginning to remember why I didn’t really ever play this archive much after it was filed (I played it a lot in the period I was recording it, of course!). 

I also annotated what I was recording on the back of the reel box, which was wide-lined just for that purpose. I could also put the start and end date on the spine of the box for easy reference.

Finally, there were occasions when I wanted to edit something out. I got pretty good at manually manipulating the start/stop of the recording to eliminate dead air, peripheral noise, and irrelevant content (like a TV commercial in real-time [pun intended, I guess!] although there would have been archival value in those commercials, too!). When I needed to edit something, though, I would take the tape out of the recording/playback head path and loop it down onto a “splicing block” (shown below) which would allow me to make diagonal splicing

image

cuts, remove the offending segment, and then tape the two ends of the reeled tape together with special splicing tape. I got pretty good at that, too. 

It was certainly possible to do the recording with some degree of discretion and precision. Specifically, on the VoM recorder, you could play the tape to the point you wanted to start recording, hit the “hold” button, and have the recorder primed to start the recording process immediately upon release of the holding status. Otherwise, if you just stopped the tape, then hit “record” when you wanted to start recording (which involved pressing the red Record button AND the Play button together (see photo at top) it was much harder to get a precise start, and you were likely to loose a second or two, which is annoying. Practice makes perfect!

A lot of the recording I did was “over the air,” i.e. with microphone placed near the TV speaker. That worked better than you might suppose, because most of the recording was done when no one else was around, and the phone didn’t ring much in those days. When I was perhaps 14, I started doing the recording via a direct hook-up between the TV’s audio-out jacks and audio-in sockets on the tape recorder. Obviously, this was preferable. The quality was certainly better, but the over-the-air sound quality was not really that bad. 

I mentioned the “bleed through” problem above for completed tapes left unplayed for long periods. In getting material for this blog post, I read that there is a method to actually "bake" an old tape (in the oven!) for a short period before playing it, which helps to restore its freshness. For mylar that’s fine; for acetate, not so much, because it’s flammable! Which reminds me of when I was a movie projectionist in college running a professional 35 mm movie projector powered by a carbon arc light generated from small sticks of carbon that had to be “ignited” before each reel was run (there were always at least two projectors, sometimes three; while one was playing you set the next one up, and rewound what just played from the other projector once you started the second one - projectionists don’t get to “watch the movie!”). Now that I thought of it, I’m going to have to do a separate blog post on that experience (and “post” is the word, since the guy who taught me how to do all that was Mark Post)! The point here, though, is that 35 mm acetate movie film was common until the late ’50s, and had to be handled with great care because the carbon arc that created the powerful projector light was extremely hot  To take out a “used” carbon stick, which you had to do at least once a film, often more frequently, you used heavy gloves like fireplace mits, and even then, handled the carbon stick itself with small tongs. If it sounds like a blacksmith shop, that’s not too far from the truth!

An Irony in American History

This never gets old, as they say. One of the major ironies in American history is the coincidental death of Founders John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on the very same day: July 14, 1826, fifty years to the day after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, that they both fought so hard to bring to fruition.

They were not close friends, and men of very different temperaments. Adams was a buttoned-down New Englander from Massachusetts, while Jefferson was a bon vivant slave-holding citizen scientist from Virginia, interested in experimentation of all kinds. Jefferson was one of the principle writers of The Declaration of Independence and founder of the University of Virginia, while Adams was a learned lawyer and one of the most effective politicians who helped get the Continental Congress to approve the written Declaration.

The two were sent to France by the Continental Congress during the War for Independence to seek financial aid from the French government. To save money, they roomed together, with Adams preferring their lodging to be kept on the cool side while Jefferson preferred it to be warm. A perfect example of the two strange bedfellows.

Though neither was overly friendly to the other during their presidencies (Adams, 1796 - 1800 and Jefferson, 1801 - 1812), since they were members of opposing political parties, once both were out of office they carried on a prolific correspondence, with each preserving the letters of the other (158 in total). It was Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia, also a Signer and friend to both men, who initiated the correspondence, now ranked among one of the most significant legacies of American history and available in well-annotated editions, always in print.

When Jefferson died shortly after midnight on July 4, 1826, his last words were “Is it the fourth yet?” partly as a tribute to Adams, whom he had been discussing before he passed away. When Adams died on the very same day, his last words were “Jefferson survives.” Word of Jefferson’s death did not reach Boston until several days later.

A Bicycle Built for Two

According to Wikipedia, “In 1961 an IBM 704 became the first computer to sing, in a demonstration of Bell Labs’ newly invented speech synthesis – and the song was ‘Daisy Bell,’ which has the refrain of ‘on a bicycle built for two.’ In a famous scene in the 1968 science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey, the intelligent HAL 9000 computer during its deactivation loses its mind and degenerates to singing ‘Daisy Bell,’ which was one of the first things HAL learned when it was originally programmed. The author of the story, Arthur C. Clarke, had seen the 1961 demo.”

So there you go: that was not a random choice on the part of Arthur Clarke, but rather an “inside baseball” reference that would please those in the know and amuse those who weren’t. 

The Neubauer Family Foundation

If you attend the Live in HD performances of the Metropolitan Opera at any of hundreds of simulcast digital movie theaters around the country (and the world), you have undoubtedly heard of the Neubauer Family Foundation, which underwrites part of the cost. They also support some PBS broadcasts, and many colleges and universities, as well. 

I finally decided to check it out, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Neubauer is remarkably close to home. The foundation is located in Huntingdon Valley, PA, north of Philadelphia, just a couple of miles away from the location of my office from 1993 to 2013. Joseph Neubauer, the head of the family, was the CEO of Aramark Corp., one of the country’s largest food services and uniform management companies, which is headquartered in Philadelphia in the prominent Aramark Tower in Center City (downtown). 

The Aramark story is an interesting one, which you can read about HERE.

"Things of Science"

The other day I tried to subscribe online to a new service, Bespoke Post, that sends items of potential interest to male subscribers each month for their consideration, or perhaps sends a notification with photos about the item which you can accept or decline for shipment. I’m not sure, because in order to get detailed information about the offer, you had to provide your email address. I refused to do this (and I saw others posting notices on social media about similar abstentions). As a follow up, a Google search on “sent every month” shows there are a half dozen such programs currently out there. 

One of the classic pioneers in monthly subscription items was Things of Science, an educational program started by the nonprofit news syndicate Science Service in November 1940 (discontinued in 1989). I was one of about 4,000 subscribers in the 1950s, and each month I would receive a small blue cardboard box in the mail, most often the “thin” version, which was 3 x 5 inches and 3/4 of an inch thick (the “thick” version was double the height), with a lid that lifted off. The box mailer

image

(shown here) had a nice yellow label, and inside was a a yellow booklet explaining the topic for that month, along with small items and supplies needed to conduct the suggested experiments or create or construct a demonstration. These ranged far and wide, covering such things as optical illusions, polarized light, textiles, tea, crystals, electrical circuits, seeds, specialized paper, aerodynamics, salt, types of wire, prisms and refraction, astronomy, and even butterflies. 

The booklet provided background information on the general subject as well as the specifics for interactive exploration. There was usually a half dozen or more individual projects for each unit, each of which could take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, or even a few days, if there was a slow chemical reaction or transformation involved.

In addition to the fascination of the subjects themselves, engaging with the Things of Science nurtured not only an appreciation of the scientific method but also encouraged methodical exploration, careful note-taking, meticulous record-keeping, keen observation, patience, and satisfaction in completing the assignments. In short, they were fun and educational. And they were challenging. At least one of the activities would require some mental or manipulative exercise that you had not done before, or not enough to have mastered it. These were confidence-builders along with everything else. 

Fortunately, Things of Science have been archived in the Smithsonian Institution, which contains a large collection of Science Service records (Designated Record Unit 7091). I don’t believe these are open to the public, but at least they’re safe for posterity in “the nation’s attic.” 

 

Inhabiting Synesthesia

That’s not a typo: “Inhabating,” not “inhibiting.” Synesthesida is defined in a number of ways, most often to explain how metaphors or similes work, as in “the rosy fingered dawn,” which suggests that sunlight is embodied with arms and hands, to embrace and warm the day. 

The derivation of the word is from ancient Greek for “senses [linked] together.” This points to another, equally important definition of synesthesia in the realm of human perception, where one sense triggers another automatically. For some, this can be color-based, so that the word or concept of “lassitude” or “laziness,” for instance, can wash the synesthete’s mind with the color yellow whenever it comes up in conversation or in reading.

Experts differ on what percentage of the population experience synesthesia, ranging from 1 in 3,000 to 1 in 30. From what I have gathered over years of reading about this, the 1 in 30 ratio seems about right.

Wikipedia lumps the various types of synesthesia into eight different categories. I myself (as you may have suspected) experience two of them: spatial sequence synesthesia and number form synesthesia. Numbers (both positive and negative) always appear to me to be arranged in a looping fashion, somewhat like they appear on a clock face, except that the numbers from 13 to 19 extend straight out “to the right” before starting to loop again for each sequence of 10 numbers up to 100, where the sequence starts again. 

But the centenary ranges from 100 to 1,000 seem to climb a hill to the left and recede, then from 1,000 to 10,000 loops again, and the entire sequence repeats up to 1,000,000, and so on. 

This is superficial description, and not that remarkable, But the experience of it is actually stronger and difficult to describe. It’s as if I can “walk the path” that the numbers describe, or experience them like a work or art, or that they represent physical places I can see and almost feel. 

The alphabet, too
As a child, I had an easel blackboard about three feet tall, at the top which was a panel that featured the alphabet in letters about half an inch high arranged in three rows. Based on the imprint in my mind from that exposure, I always see the alphabet in three rows, modified somewhat (I’m not sure why), with the first row going from A -F, the second from G to P, and the last from Q to Z. 

Quite a few famous people in all walks of life have synesthesia of one sort or another, which is neither here nor there (synesthesically speaking!), and a logical factoid (why wouldn’t they?). It really has no impact on ability or creativity: one can be highly creative and not be synesthetic, or one can be highly synesthetic and have no creative abilities at all. Scientific studies conclude that there is no link at all between synesthesia and virtually any behavior or attitudes. 

So it is more of an “intellectual curiosity” than anything with a practical application. Perhaps my fascination with it, other than having it myself, is that it gives a glimpse “inside another person’s mind” that is difficult to experience any other way. It’s not a huge reveal, but a pervasive one. Whether it’s calendar months (which I experience in a chain from January to June, then to the right of that chain the July - December chain) or the hours of the day (envisioned quite literally as on an analog clock), synesthesia organizes the basic elements of time for me, at all scales in which it is measured (centuries following the same pattern). 

With time comes place, and I have always been very map- and geography-oriented. I can’t identify every place on a blank globe, but a very large number of them, And I have always been fascinated by how maps are created. (See my post on Maps, Andrea Mitchell, and Me.) I wonder if there is any specific link between cartographia (love of maps) and synesthesia? I can’t believe there is not. 

P.S. Google Maps now has 3D ambient sound you can play while looking at Street View, which has been described as a “playful digital synesthesia.”

 

Common Words People Don’t Often Use

bedraggled
cavalcade
conflagration
conundrum
crucible
effervescent
ghastly
harangue
hasty
impish
listless
omnipresent
panoply
sage
transfigured
waif
yarn (as in story)
xenophobic

The Curse of Comedic Genius

The suicide of Robin Williams has brought with it a flood of commentary, interpretation, reminiscence, and regret on the part of many who knew Robin that they had not been aware of his despair.

Deservedly, Robin Wiliams is on the cover of the August 25th issue of Time magazine, in which Dick Cavett has an article on “Boxing the Black Dog [of Depression and Despair].” Cavett’s article, more than most other reactions, got me thinking about the differences between comedians and other performers. While everyone on a stage is keyed into audience reaction and cheered by the applause, stage actors, singers – even magicians – differ from comedians in their being able to rehearse very effectively without audience reaction. Indeed, rehearsal by definition, means putting together a performance and deconstructing it, a stop-reverse-start-reverse, herky-jerky process that is totally inappropriate for audience viewing. Of course, later rehearsals and dress rehearsals will run through an entire performance in proper chronological order, but except for the dress rehearsal, there is usually some interruption for comment, feedback, fine-tuning, and even addition or subtraction of lines or possibly entire scenes.

Comedians, on the other hand, while they certainly run through their routines everywhere from the pillow to the shower to idle moments in the supermarket (at least in their heads), can’t really practice effectively without a live audience, because while their instincts and experience tell them that something is funny, it may be too broad, too obscure, too inside-baseball, too ephemeral, too esoteric, or too-whatever to “work” as part of their act, and they may not always be the best judge of that. A significant other can be helpful, and professional friends can offer feedback. But there is nothing like an audience to seal the deal.

Of course, tried-and-true material that is part of the comedian’s act doesn’t require this kind of vetting. But new material does, and most comedians are constantly on the look-out for new material. They want to stay fresh, and they want their act to always be fresh.  Every famous performer has classic material that they know each audience wants to hear, but each audience also wants to hear new bits, as well. It’s a tough balancing act.

So there is certainly pressure on the comedian to keep in top form, and that can be a true grind. Most people, and performers are people, harbor self-doubts of some kind, and when you couple this with the need to be constantly pushing the envelope, you put yourself at risk of going out on one too many limbs. If you have a thick skin, you make note of what works and what doesn’t and you move on. If your skin is not so thick, it can take its toll over time.

Practice, practice, practice
We all know the old joke, How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice! Musicians are very lucky to be in a performing genre, like gymnasts (and players of all sports) where practice is not only a necessity but an integral part of their maintaining (to say nothing of advancing) their skills. If you spend any time around professional musicians, you will quickly discover that they are constantly fiddling with their instruments using “warm up’ routines, snippets of music they play over and over in between rehearsal sessions, for example, just to “stay limber” and “in the groove.” At any orchestral concert, the musicians will trickle onto the stage 15 or 20 minutes before the performance and start “rehearsing” in public to prepare for the imminent recital.

Comedians do this to a certain extent. They may have an early gig at a small bar before going to their main event later in the evening. But I don’t believe this is common (and would probably be contractually forbidden in most cases anyway). I think most of the time they “get shot from a cannon” every night they are performing, and make the best of it.

Formula for Disaster
This is truly a grind. While analysis of comedians’ dispositions has repeatedly shown an underlying tendency for them to be cursed with depressive personalities, even the most optimistic and truly bubby or upbeat comedian will almost certainly be dragged down by such a burden. Add this to inherent insecurity, and it is a formula for disaster. No wonder, indeed, that drugs and alcohol are rampant in the profession. Not only do they help “anesthetize” the anxiety, they also initially help to inspire some of the creativity. Unfortunately, one becomes “acclimated” to these substances and requires them in increasingly larger quantities to achieve the desired effect.

I can hardly think of a more disheartening calamity. 

The Birth of the Modern

When I was in graduate school in the 1970s, I majored in history, and one of the recurring themes in the monographs I read on European and American history was the emergence of modernity, or Modern Life.

Of course, this term has to be defined effectively in order to have any meaning. Without getting pedantic, let’s just say that “the modern era” is distinguished from earlier times by the disintegration of “feudal” social structures (with royalty, aristocracy, and peasantry), leading to the rise of the bourgeoisie and later to the middle class. It is also inexorably tied to increasing urbanization, and to the rise of scientific inquiry, which neutralized the power of religious institutions in social life.

There is also a financial foundation to consider, starting with the British East India Company in the 17th century, the first “joint stock” corporation in the world. A significant aspect of this corporation is that it posited “limited liability” as a major aspect of business incorporation. The reason for this innovation was to protect the consortium of investors in this risky business from financial ruin while engaged in an enterprise much larger than any one of them could have afforded independently.

Tracking Transitions
The flourishing financial innovations in the 17th century coincided with the Renaissance, and in England with the age of Shakespeare, which marked a big break from Medieval standards, mores, and politics. By the 18th century we see The Enlightenment, which began to introduce a worldview that we can all agree foreshadows today’s “modern” world. It is also the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, so by the 19th century we see the emergence of The Middle Class, major advances in medicine, and a significant increase in the influence of secular thought, often attributed to Darwin’s impact, even though Darwin had a firm belief in God (qualified by calling himself an agnostic at the end of his life).

This litany of “progress” or “historical change” can be explored in depth from many perspectives: political, social, economic, artistic, musical, scientific, and so on. If you delve into any one of these aspects, and look at it during any fifty year span (just for convenience sake), you will notice a significant transition in outlook and norms (behavioral, structural, and moral) from the beginning of the period to the end of it. The reason for this is simply that a major aspect of “modernity” is that it rejects a fixed society with rigid social classes, and depends on social mobility and being able to accumulate wealth, gain education, and engage in cultural activities that broaden the mind, and which build upon the same dynamic from previous periods (of 50 or a hundred years).

Bear in mind also that the printing press was invented in the 15th century, and literacy was beginning to have a major impact on the spread of knowledge by the Renaissance. With this came an explosion in publishing, and in turn the emergence of a plethora of magazines, newspapers, pamphlets and other publications.

A Turning Point?
So each time you look at these transitions, it is tempting to conclude that the period from 1750 to 1800, for instance, was such a major turning point – with the American and French Revolutions as a central historical focus – that this was, indeed, the emergence of the “modern” era. Accordingly, most of the histories of that period come to conclusions based on that kind of analysis.

The problem, of course, is that you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. If The Modern World began in 1800, then what about those historians who write about the Revolution of 1848 in Europe and describe it as the beginning of The Modern era? Or American historians describing the Civil War as the turning point from pre-Modern to Modern? Or those who say that when Columbus discovered “The New World” or when Ferdinand Magellan first sailed around the world around 1520, this was the beginning of The Modern era? Pick any 50 year period since 1500, as I said, and you will see enough “before and after” contrasts to make a strong argument that this was, indeed, the birth of The Modern.

There are other significant turning points, as well: World War I, Nov. 22, 1963, Sept. 11, 2001, to name a few. 

This carries into contemporary culture, as well. It is easy to assume that before the Internet was invented in the 1970s, or prior to the Worldwide Web in the 1990s, or the smartphone and the iPad in the last decade, or HDTV, or cable television, or any other technology, we really hadn’t entered the “modern” world. A strong case can be made for any of those. But that just proves that the birth of the Modern is a constantly moving target. “Before” and “After” become increasingly irrelevant when seen from that perspective. As the cliché says, the only constant is change. And the pace of change is increasing with every passing year. As another cliché has it, “get used to it!”

P.S. I just ran across this in a review of “The Inner Life of Empires”it “looks at one family’s complex story” in the mid-1800s “to describe the origins of the modern political, economic, and intellectual world.” See what I mean? It’s like a sticky wad of tape you can’t shake off!

Books, Movies, Media and the Kaleidoscope of Time

Real life unfolds inexorably by the clock, second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour. You may be involved in an engrossing activity and the time just seems to “fly by,” but there is no cheating the metronome of time. And if you are bored, the passage of time can seem excruciatingly slow. If you and a companion are watching a movie that one of you loves and other doesn’t, the love-it watcher will say it ended too soon, and the hate-it watcher thought it went on way too long.

One of the principal elements of any version of reality or even of fantasy that depicts life in any fashion (a novel, a motion picture, a news report) is that it is completely free of any coupling with sequential time. Some novels take place over centuries, others, like Ulysses, need many hundreds of pages to cover the events of a single day.

So What?
This is no revelation: everyone knows this. But we usually take it completely for granted. Of course that’s how it works! So what? The “so what” factor here is that anyone writing a book, making a movie, or producing a news report (written or video) must constantly come to terms with the way they choose to portray the passage of time in what they are creating. This is not necessarily something that the creator will decide completely in advance. There may be an initial concept, but this often changes many times as the writing progresses. And of course, each segment of the book or movie or news report will often cover a far different time-span than the preceding or the following time-span. In some cases, two chapters in a book cover the same time-span, each from a different point of view. And then of course there are flashbacks and flashforwards.

So writers, reporters, and film editors become their own Time Lords, orchestrating the natural play-out of real time according to the needs of their story, their plotline, their characters, and their own sense of what will best involve readers or viewers.

A suspension of disbelief may occasionally be required. In the ABC melodrama “Revenge,” the main action takes place at the far end of Long Island, but there are many cases in the story where the action is set in Manhattan. Even in the wee hours of the morning on a cold day in March, when there will be few other drivers on the road, that journey will take nearly two-and-a-half hours; on any normal weekday morning, that trip can take three hours plus-plus. Yet the characters in the show can finish breakfast at 9:30 and be in a downtown Manhattan office well before lunch time. The 2-1/2 hours doesn’t include parking, getting to the building, and riding the elevator to whatever high floor, all of which can realistically add another half hour.

Cause and Effect
This is a practical example of how time in the media is completely unlike real life. But there are other dimensions to explore here, as well. If a reporter recounts an event without a careful accounting for time, cause-and-effect can be confusing, the perspective of those involved in the event can be distorted, and even the meaning of the action can be misconstrued.

Of course, if you are interested in a sports competititon, you are frequently just interested in the “box score” version of what transpired. Some people accuse baseball of being a “slow” game because they don’t really understand it. The pace of the action is not measured in the usual parcels of elapsed time; in fact, there are often very sound strategic reasons to slow down the game while a new pitcher warms up. In games like football, the one-hour game becomes a three-hour extravaganza based on time-outs, clock-stopping, and if televised, pauses for commercial breaks.

So the next time you watch a movie, read a book, or digest a news report, pay attention to the time-frame, time-scale, and time management of whoever produced it. As the kaleidoscope of time unfolds in the medium, does it make valid sense to you? If not, is it “poetic license,” a deliberate distortion, a dramatic device, or an inadvertant slip-up?

As Thomas Wolfe wrote in Of Time and the River, “At that instant he saw, in one blaze of light, an image of unutterable conviction, the reason why the artist works and lives and has his being—the reward he seeks—the only reward he really cares about, without which there is nothing. It is to snare the spirits of mankind in nets of magic, to make his life prevail through his creation, to wreak the vision of his life, the rude and painful substance of his own experience, into the congruence of blazing and enchanted images that are themselves the core of life, the essential pattern whence all other things proceed, the kernel of eternity.”

Which means, in the long run, that the Web of Time is a tool and a weapon in the creator’s arsenal, serving first and foremost the producer’s needs and priorities, a way of “playing God.” Just be sure that in a news story, the reporter isn’t playing fast and loose with the facts as well, either by omission, time-warping, or unreasonable distortion of what you suspect is a much different truth.