work (kinda)25 Mar 2009 11:49 pm

1960s telephone switchboard

…He had only this source’s last name, a nickname, the general area of his suspected whereabouts (north and east of Toronto), and a warning: this was a sinister character. An hour after sharing that seemingly inadequate information with the switchboard, the operators had a full name and phone number. “They can take those stressful calls,” says [crime reporter Peter] Edwards. “They don’t get skittish or nervous. In 18 years, I’ve never heard, ‘Give me a break; we can’t get that.'”

According to Barbara Barker, an operator in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the switchboard operators often used Bell Canada for basic searches. They called pay phones to find sources in public areas because, according to Turner, “no one can resist answering a ringing pay phone.”

These are quotes from a piece on the switchboard at the Toronto Star. The ladies of the board knew everything, everyone – and could get them on the phone. They didn’t just answer the phone, they did research and dug for answers.

The article is four years old, but it’s amazing to hear the tales of the days before the internet in journalism. If you can even imagine that.

Smooth Operators [via Ryerson Review of Journalism]

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