This is a very small story, but it kind of reverberates: The computer age has caught up with The Washington Star's alumni newsletter.
Since the afternoon daily died three years ago, a veteran police reporter, Charles A. McAleer, has been writing a semiannual letter -- four pages of legal-size paper, single-spaced right out to the margins. The letter goes to 500 former Star people, and it is packed with their news.
Under headings like "Wedding Bells Toll" and "People on Move" are terse items: "Betty Cuniberti, Los Angeles Times' D.C. bureau, and attorney Francis Canavan were wed in D.C. Oct. 20, reported Rachel Shuster, now with sports at USA Today. Rachel said another guest was ex-Star lawyer Walter Diercks . . . Joy Billington and husband Joe Doty will be taking the road to Scotland early next year where Joe is to be Precentor of Perth Cathedral . . ."
More or less singlehanded, McAleer has been helping keep his former colleagues in touch with each other at their new addresses. He includes pension news for retirees, the occasional obit ("For Another Ex-Star, It Was '30' ") and his modest accounting of expenses to the Star Reunion Fund.
But in the latest issue, McAleer reports that some other Star survivors have transferred the mailing list to Boris Weintraub's word processor and propose to use it for writing the letter. Weintraub, of the National Geographic news service, is on the ad hoc committee that runs Star reunions.
Which leaves McAleer feeling somewhat bereft. At 65 (he retired three years ago after 44 years, two months and seven days at the Star), like an old firehorse, the former rewrite man loves doing newsletters. For 20 years he has been keeping as many as 17 of them going, for his American Legion post, his Army buddies, his Christmas card list and others. He works on an old Royal Standard in his basement office, gets colleagues to help with the mailings.
"I'm not buying any home computer," he said the other day. "I spend two weeks producing one of these things, with a lot of personal touches. I can turn over the letters I get, but I go on trips and see old friends and take notes. They want to feed my notes into the machine, but nobody can read them."
He fears that the old-timers and retirees he knows would be left out of a streamlined new operation. He is also worried that because his summer issue came out late, the September reunion wasn't well attended.
"I'll do one more and maybe another one. Maybe we can have two newsletters," he mused. "It's too bad. I'm busier now with these things than I ever was. This is what keeps you going."
Weintraub was aghast to learn that McAleer was upset.
"The reunion was far better attended than I'd expected," he said. "It was on a different date than usual, but the newsletter was on time. Charlie McAleer does yeoman service. He's been writing this sort of thing for years and years, and I'm sorry he feels that way."
The ad hoc committee responsible for the Star reunions -- including Lance Gay, now at Scripps-Howard, Sheilah Kast of ABC News, Jody Beck of WRC-TV and Toni House of the Supreme Court staff, along with Weintraub -- will turn out future newsletters on word processors, "though we probably don't have the dedication Charlie does. He made it into an art form."