Methods change, but end result the same

Published 6:05 pm Saturday, August 8, 2009

When I get up every morning, right after I start the coffee, I sit on the couch and read several newspapers.

Well, I guess actually I scan several newspapers, reading from them things that particularly interest me.

I don’t hold those newspapers in my hand, though. I read them on the screen of the laptop computer that comes to work with me in the morning and goes home with me in the afternoon and that is only off on the road between those two places.

Much has changed since I showed up for my first day at a newspaper.

Back then I was fresh out of college and I knew a lot more than I do now. Or at least I thought I did.

That newspaper had just sold its Linotype and many wooden trays of handset type. I’m not sure who bought all the old, hot type equipment, but they apparently bought it for scrap. By the time I got to that newspaper, it was all gone but you could go out front and pick handset type out of the cracks of the sidewalk. Apparently those trays of type had been just tossed into the back of a truck.

I thought that was sad.

The typesetting machinery at that newspaper while I was there was a Justowriter. It looked like two big, electric typewriters. A typist sat at one of them and typed in copy. The other one magically typed the same story justified and the correct column width on a strip of paper. Somebody else would take that strip of paper and run it through a waxing machine and stick it on a sheet of paper the size of a newspaper page. That was called pasting up.

Headlines were set on another machine. That machine used big, plastic wheels – a different one for each different font – and the operator spun the wheel to the correct letter and pushed a button to print that letter on a strip of light-sensitive paper. The finished headline was then waxed and pasted on the page.

When I left that first newspaper – a weekly – and moved on to a daily, the daily was in the process of installing a computer system to do what the Linotype and then the Justowriter as well as the Headliner all had done. The computer system was dedicated to doing that and that alone. It wasn’t like the computer you use today. All it knew how to do was make newspaper copy. And that copy still had to be cut out and pasted onto a page.

The next step was to the kind of computers we all use today, and to desktop publishing programs. Now we could generate a whole page within the computer and print it directly to film. A new word – paginate – described that process.

And then came the Internet and newspapers began to be available electronically.

That’s what makes it possible for me to read fresh newspapers from Idaho and Texas and Mississippi and North Carolina and Virginia and New York every morning while the coffee perks.

I’d still rather hold a “real” newspaper in my hand and read it. But that’s probably a generational thing. My kids are just as happy reading it “online.”

The bottom line is that, though the methods have changed constantly over the years, the end result is the same. The only places you’ll see a Linotype machine or handset type are museums.

But newspapers – either “real” or electronic – are still keeping us abreast of what’s going on in our communities.

David Sullens is president of Roanoke-Chowan Publications LLC and publisher of the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald and the Gates County Index.