Basics remain the same

Published 9:15 am Tuesday, May 29, 2012

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.

In my 30-plus years in the newspaper publishing business, I’ve witnessed technological changes by the bushel basket full. 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 – neatly composed on a layout page – 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, who 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. 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 over the years it’s 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 Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be reached at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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