Saturday, April 23, 1859 - Friday, February 27, 2009
I was thinking the other day that there is something wistful about picking up an old newspaper and getting print on your finger tips. Years ago when I used to run 2,000 pound rolls to the printing presses and waited for alarm bells to ring between roll changes, I would sit at my station and read fresh copy hot off the press and catch the daily news before it had even hit the street. I would start out reading the business section; move on to the local section, and avoid the obits because I didn't know anyone in town. I would always end up finishing the crossword puzzle. What I didn't read
I think I've always had printing in my blood. Before I ever ran rolls to the printing presses I spent time working for a small time newspaper in Idaho several years earlier. My best friend Tina, and her husband used to work for the oldest newspaper in Idaho. It was a weekly publication that got put to bed every Tuesday night and then we would drive it over the mountain to have it printed so that we could deliver it across the county on Wednesday.
At first I would wander in every Tuesday night to visit. But then I was starting to get simple instructions like "Grab that brush out of that bowl of hot wax and run it down that column right there in the middle. Now take that strip of font right there and paste it down all nice and even." Later I would begin to typeset. It never occurred to me that years later I would end up in the printing business. I never thought that I would find myself dipped into ink up to my elbows or that I would crawl inside a three story press using my body as a giant sponge to clean the thing. One day I told myself that I needed to do this job but without the monkey suit or apron. I wanted something cleaner. And so came the days when I started stripping four-color film and the only ink I got on me was from my Papermate or Sharpie when I missed putting the cover cap on. I started working for the shop I'm in now and I burned plates and bluelines all day long. But even that had started to get to me. So wherever there was a ladder I would climb it. Eventually our mom and pop shop changed along with most of the rest of the world. We went digital.
This new process has done a lot for the industry. We used to joke about how one day our jobs might be in jeorpardy. The old printing presses are slowly being dismantled and sold for scrap metal while the new automated presses are getting replaced by newer models just to keep up with the times. We used to joke about how my department could eventually disappear completely. The files that are sent to my department are inspected one last time for quality control and then queued up so that plates can be made and sent out to the presses. Eventually the newer presses will be able to read digital files and the plates will be sent directly to the presses, cutting out a whole department. I hope that doesn't happen at my shop.
The economic downsizing of jobs across the country have me thinking about my place in the work force. In our city I have seen many printing shops go out of business. The demand is no longer there. Customers have cut back on the quality of paper they are using. Gas has taken an enormous effect on paper delivery, and shipping and handling. Ad revenues and page content have decreased in size in both magazines and newspapers. I miss the good old days when you could count on opening up the Sunday newspaper and its contents would spill out onto the couch and floor. There was no expense saved for the pile of print that you paid extra for because the ads were flourishing.
It is sad to see that an industry once so powerfully an institution is slowly disappearing with the roll of a stone. And it is simple to look at. If there are no revenues there is no money. If there is no money there are no jobs. If there are no jobs there is no staff. If there isn't a staff then lock the doors.