Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Before Printing Was Discovered...

Today I enjoyed learning about the Linotype machine, which was before my time. When I worked for a newspaper in the mid-eighties, it was just before newspaper offices were all converted to computers for printing and mock up, what is called the paginated process. We used a big old letterpress typesetter machine, the name of which I cannot recall. We used two sizes of paper, one about the width of three or four inches and the other about three times that size. (Actually there may have been three sizes, I honestly can't remember.) The paper was put on cylinders that were locked inside the big old machine. On the smaller we would typeset columns of print for articles, picture captions, small print for ads, and small headlines. On the other we could use larger-sized fonts for headlines and larger print for ads. The print was "dispensed" from the machine, and you had to watch to make sure it came out right. We would cut it and lay it on a heated metal plate to dry. Then when we were ready to mock up a page, we would roll melted wax on the back of the sheet and place them on the news sheet "dummy." Sometimes when we were getting close to deadline and in a hurry, we were cutting off front page headlines, captions, articles, filler, or segments of corrections as they were spewing from the machine, and hastening their drying so we could get them down as quickly as possible.

It was a small weekly paper, so we all wore many hats. My title was layout artist, but I also did typesetting, reporting, photographs, and feature articles. I was also, along with the editor, the proofreader. It was my job to proof everything, including ad type, all throughout the week as copy was made. The editor, as he had time, would do so as well, as copy was put down. Then on Monday I would go through each page as it was finished and put a check mark on the top right corner when all type had been proofed. Brian, my boss, would go through each page, one at a time, in order (except the front page, usually the last to be done), proof everything and put a check on the top left of each page. Sometimes he might check off a page before I did, and it was a friendly contest between us to see if we could find a typo or other mistake that the other had missed. Rarely did either of us have the opportunity to gloat! (Our production day was Monday, and we had to put the paper to bed by 4 a.m. Tuesday morning in order to get it to press on time.)

Right before I got married and quit my job, small weekly papers like ours were starting to be put together with computer software, and the technology we were using was becoming outdated. I'm glad I got in on it before it died out. I even won a couple of Kentucky Press Association awards!

A couple of my uncles were newspapermen, and I'm pretty sure that at least one of them had worked for a paper when the Linotype was used. Revolutionary for its time, the Linotype transformed communication much like the Internet is doing now. Unfortunately, technology at the time began to overtake the Linotype and they relatively quickly began to be scrapped, leaving very few of them still in existence today. There are some people who are trying to keep the old Linotype from dying out completely and are working on a documentary about the old machine. I hope you watch the trailer below. Click on this link for Linotype:The Film to learn more about it, and perhaps you'll even consider donating to them. They are certainly enthusiastic about their project!

"Linotype: The Film" Official Trailer from Linotype: The Film on Vimeo.

"Before printing was discovered, a century was equal to a thousand years." ~~ Henry David Thoreau


Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure I would have quit that job, sounds kind of interesting. ~Mary

Lori said...

I enjoyed it a lot, but when we got married I moved 70 miles away, and I wasn't making enough to make that drive.

Gerry said...

Interesting entry. I always thought the newspaper business was very glamorous. I was torn between wanting to be a journalist or a novelist, and I also wanted to write short stories and plays. I just didn't have time to be everything, but I have always read the newspaper faithfully where ever I have been and took a big interest in some weekly newspapers like our Garfield County News in Utah which printed some of the best letters I have ever seen in a newspaper, one series from cattle men vs environmentalists and BLM people that gripped your attention like a running serial, so much passion and indignation was vented! The editor and publisher of that paper,a woman, was a wonder.