Carnies era?? I am still printing , maybe I can call it half century in 2023 , since 1973 was the first day I ever saw a print emerge.btw still love that feeling.
Right out of the gate I printed colour, we use a basic translator to find density and colour. In the neg sleeve was a proof print of the image with no dodge and burn.
That proof print was my **map** so to speak, without it we were lost for dodging and burning apps.
In the Analogue world I live in I always want a reference print so I can move in that direction, Darkroom Innovations has a timer that should get one in the close ballpark for density and contrast from the get go.
If one is as anal as the Zone Gurus then of course one can be within micro nanons of density and contrast with their first print.
I just happen to look at the neg, on a light box and on the easel , stick my wet finger in the air to calculate the exposure and contrast and hope for the best. Common sense dictates my decision, also when I work in a day I usually work with 4-8 negs, and I start with what I think is the easiest negatives and I match neg's on the light-box to work on next. I always use two enlargers and print two at a time , if I am having difficulty with one I will finish the first and then concentrate on the more difficult print.
Any way will get you there, I just think that to make great prints one should not worry too much about a lot of unnecessary trappings and just enjoy the print making experience.
My way is only one right way **for me**.