Despite changes, newspapering is at heart the same
Newspaper technology was a lot different when I started my career 42 years ago.
Those were the days when most newspapers were “hot metal” – that means hot lead was used to create type that was put into forms which were then cast into plates that would go on the press to print the newspaper. It was a hot, dirty, noisy industrial process.
The presses are still noisy, but the process for printing newspapers has otherwise changed significantly. Now type, images and pages are directly computer-imaged onto a thin lightweight plate that is put on the press to print the newspaper. No more hot metal.
The change to this new process was just beginning when I entered the profession.
It was a time when reporters would pound away on typewriters to produce their stories on paper which was then passed on to an editor who would use a pencil to mark it up. It would then go to a typesetter who would retype it on strips of “film” that were cut apart and pasted on pages. These pages would then be photographed and transferred to the plates to put on an offset press.
That is essentially the same printing method we use today except now all the steps leading up to the press are computerized, including producing the stories, editing them, putting together (designing) the pages and transferring them to a plate to put on the press. This has sped up the process and reduced staffing needs.
An important additional stage has been added to newspapering, however, that is dramatically changing this industry. That, of course, is the emergence of the Internet and online newspapers. What was once only available in print form is now available digitally, and some predict that could eventually be the only form of newspapers.
And that brings me to a concept that seems popular these days – the belief that newspapers are dinosaurs that will soon vanish. I think it is a myth pushed by people who for some reason don't really like newspapers and get a certain satisfaction out of the belief their demise is coming.
The reality is that processes to produce newspapers have been changing, sometimes very dramatically, throughout my career – which will come to a close at the end of this year as I retire. There have also been significant changes in the competition that newspapers face over the years. The competition from 24-hour news channels and online competitors has grown. There has also been more competition for the advertising that supports newspapers.
Despite all these changes, and the ones that are still to come, one thing has remained a certainty and that is the journalism that is the heart and soul of newspapers.
Doomsayers confuse the technology that produces newspapers with what newspapers do – they are much different. Technology is simply a means to an end. And that end is to tell stories – especially for local newspapers like the Yuma Sun, stories about their own community. Local newspapers are often the only media telling these stories in the depth and variety that readers want.
How we distribute those stories doesn't really matter – whether it is in print, online or even via video. What matters is that we tell stories through words and images that people want to get because they are important to their lives.
Throughout my career that is what newspapers have done, and I believe they will continue to do so long into the future, both in print and otherwise.
Only when people are no longer interested in what is happening around them and keeping informed about it will newspapers truly be dinosaurs. And if that happens, our society will be in a lot more trouble than the loss of newspapers.
Far from being the end of days for newspapers, I see this period as an exciting one for the industry. Major changes and innovations are taking place, and as always some are resisting those changes. But inevitably I think newspapers will adjust – as they have throughout my career – and be better for it.
So, even though I will be gone, this newspaper will continue, as it has since 1872, led by people forging new paths to storytelling. One of them, my replacement Roxanne Molenar, will take over this space beginning next week.