Technology changesbasics remain the same By Cal Bryant 05/20/2008 Thank goodness for the basics.without them where would we be? It#8217;s been said that all we needed to know in life we learned in Kin

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Thank goodness for the basics….without them where would we be?

It’s been said that all we needed to know in life we learned in Kindergarten, as in being taught the important difference between bodily function Number 1 and Number 2.

Then there are those who taught us how to recognize numbers and letters, empowering us further on the basics of how to take those figures and characters to finds solutions and construct words/sentences. Without that knowledge, we would be clueless on how to log in an IP address or type an e-mail/text message, each a must if we are to survive in today’s high-tech age.

I was thinking about the basics while in the Triangle area this past weekend. It was the third weekend of May, the traditional time for the North Carolina Newspaper Production Conference. For the past 57 years, those involved with the production aspect of the newspaper industry have gathered to discuss new innovations within our industry as well as bouncing ideas off each other. Personally, it marked my 25th year of attending this annual gathering.

For a quarter-century, I’ve seen our industry evolve from a manual, labor intensive job…aka hard work…to an era dominated by digital gadgetry…aka software.

Upon landing my first full-time job in the printing industry in 1973, I came in armed with all the latest know-how, courtesy of the Graphic Arts program at what was then known as Chowan College. I jumped in feet first at the News-Herald, working in the offset camera room where my boss, Larry Howell, and I developed all the film for the newsroom, made all the photos, reproduced those photographs as PMT’s (Photo Mechanical Transfer) or film halftones and then captured all the text, photos and ads n neatly composed on a layout page n on large sheets of film, processed that film and sent it on down the line to the plate room.

As I mentioned earlier, everything back then was so labor intensive. We had two shifts of women, about 15 per shift, that set all the type and composed ads, one line at the time. There were two full-time workers in the camera room, three in the plate room and five to six on the press.

Now days, the work of those 30 people in the composition room is performed by one, full-time person plus a part-timer. Modern technology has completely removed the camera room from the production process. The plate room is now staffed by one person, however the technology is currently in use that will do away with that position (not here, but in larger printing operations).

But no matter how far we venture into this digital craze, there’s nothing on the horizon to replace a newspaper press. We can purchase all the latest software….downsize or completely bypass certain production processes….install all the bells and whistles….but we can’t get rid of ink on paper. How the pre-press product now arrives in the pressroom is totally different than yesteryear, but the finished product you hold in your hands is still produced by a mixture of ink and water that coats the image recorded on a plate, which is transferred to a blanket and retransferred, or offset, back on paper.

If I learned one valuable lesson this past weekend at the Production Conference it was that the next generation of newspaper personnel are armed with the basics, now of a high-tech variety, to ensure the future of our business. We still benefit from the knowledge passed along by professors in the Graphic Communications department of Chowan University who are preparing those young men and women to become the newspaper industry’s leaders of tomorrow.

Perhaps I’m a bit biased, but Chowan’s Graphics department is the glue that holds that university together. Sure, Chowan is strong in its other academic offerings, but within our industry, that brick building by Lake Vann is the educational center of the printing universe.

Keep up the good work and keep teaching the basics.

Cal Bryant is Editor of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald and Gates County Index. He can be reached at 252-332-7207 or