Nebraska Press Association Honors Tom Southard and Bill Blauvelt

Jul 24, 2020

The Nebraska Press Association has honored Tom Southard, who started writing sports for the Western Nebraska Observer in 1964, with a career achievement award.

The NPA welcomed Southard on June 25 into the prestigious Golden Pica Pole Club, which recognizes those who have devoted 50 years or more "of faithful service to the newspaper profession in Nebraska."

The announcement was made during the Nebraska Press Association Virtual 2020 Better Newspaper Contest & Awards Presentation, which is on YouTube. The ceremony is a staple of the NPA's annual convention but went digital this year due to the pandemic.

The Golden Pica Club's other Class of 2020 inductee is Bill Blauvelt, publisher of the Superior Express and the Nuckolls County Locomotive-Gazette.

What's a Golden Pica Pole, you ask?

Well, for decades, before newspaper production shifted mainly to computer programs, pica poles were an essential tool of the trade found all over newspaper offices in drawers and on desks, tables and shelves. Everywhere.

Printers used pica poles in the composing room to measure type by picas (6 picas to the inch). Page layout employees ran their knives along pica poles to cut stories, photos and headlines evenly off of printed sheets of paper before waxing the backs of them and placing them on pages during the layout process. Editors and photographers used pica poles to measure photos to help determine the percentage the photos would need to be reduced or enlarged to fit a space on a page.

And now? Leftover pica poles still are found in newsrooms, including the Observer itself. They're good for those times when measuring is needed, of course, and for scratching your back.