Advances in Newspaper Production

This is the way we would make corrections in a story by removing corrected line or lines and insert corrected lines.
This is the way we would make corrections in a story by removing incorrect line or lines and insert corrected lines if the correction caused several lines to be reset if a word was left out causing the operator to have to reset the lines to the end of the paragraph.

When I started work at the Alexandria Daily Town Talk in August of 1966 the paper was still using hot metal for each line of type produced.

My first job was working on the type dump. The linotype operators operated a huge linotype machine that produced a slug for each line of type seen in a newspaper. The slugs were extremely hot after being produced by the linotype machine.

This video shows a restored linotype machine in operation and describes in detail how a line of type is produced from the machine.

When all the lines in a story had been set on the linotype machine the finished  story would be placed in a galley. The galley would be brought to the type dump where the person working at the dump would make any corrections needed by inserting a corrected slug in the place of the incorrect slug.

Once the story had been corrected  the galley would be turned around where the page makeup people would take the galley to the page form where it belonged.


Page Makeup Built Pages According To Layout

They would then follow the page layout for that page and place photos and type as specified by the layout in the proper position. If a story wouldn’t fit the space because the story was too long an editor decided what part of a story could be cut to make it fit in the page form.

After a few months of working on the dump I was promoted to being a page makeup person.

Usually the ads would be placed in the page first before filling the page with type and photos. If an ad wasn’t ready and all the other elements for the page were ready we would place blank slugs the size of the missing ad to fill that space so the page can be built without having to wait for the ad.

The way type appeared to the page makeup person placing type in the page form according to the page layout.

Linotype slugs as they look to page makeup person.


Pica rulers similar to what we used to measure when building a newspaper page and these rulers were also called line gauges by newspaper workers.
Pica rulers similar to what we used to measure when building a newspaper page and these rulers were also called line gauges by newspaper workers.

A page was tightened by inserting slugs into places in columns which had some slack. If the metal slugs were not standing up straight they would lean over and would cause the type to be off its feet making a page harder to read in that portion of the page.

Then we would use a tool to tighten up the page form so the page would remain tightened when running under the mat roller. The mat roller was a metal cylinder that pressed cardboard mats over the type in the page making an impression.

The cardboard impression would then be placed on the press and ink would be applied on the page as the page would rotate in the printing press till the end of the printing run.


Switched to Cold Type In 1972

The Town Talk used hot metal composition for many years and switched to what was called cold type operation in 1972.

The hot metal days are over for the most part in the United States today. Very few linotype machines are in operation but the linotype machines will be forever etched in the memory of those that operated them and those that worked in printing plants where they were still being used.

The New York Herald Tribune was the first newspaper to use a linotype machine in 1886. The machine was invented by German clockmaker Ottmar Mergenthaler.

The Town Talk used the cold type operation which consisted of  placing stories on a page using paper for a few years. Eventually they would switch to a system using negatives when an entire page would be produced in negative form and come out of a typesetter.


Used Four Color Process

The camera shop would produce the photos for those pages and the color photos would have to be stripped into blank spaces on the page reserved for the photos using a four color process.

There would be a separate negative for red, yellow, blue and black and the negatives would be registered to make sure they would match the register marks so the photo would be aligned correctly.


Full Page Pagination Using Negatives

Later on full page pagination was developed and the page designers would send out the full pages on negative along with the four color negatives for color photos.

This development only left the camera shop to tone photos for the most part on the computer. After being in the camera shop for a few years I was sent to the platemaking department till I retired in 2004.


Page Designer To Pressrom Technology

Today technology is even more advanced making it possible for a page designer to send an entire page in plate form to the printing press passing over the camera shop and the platemaking department.

Before the platemaking department had burned impressions from negatives onto metal plates and processing the plates until the impression showed up on the plate. Then the page was placed in its page position on the press.

The composing room which numbered close to 40 workers at one time no longer exists as technology continued to eliminate jobs.


None Of My Jobs Still Exist

None of the departments I worked in at Town Talk exist today. It is a sad commentary that technology has made some aspects of printing much easier yet has eliminated many jobs in the process leaving countless employees out of work.

In my 38 years of newspaper production we have come a long way from linotype machines producing a line at a time to a page designer pushing a button on a computer after designing a page and that page would be ready to be placed on the press in a few minutes.


Pressroom Being Closed

The Town Talk recently announced that the newspaper will no longer be printed in Alexandria after being printed here for the last 126 years. The pages will be sent electronically to Lafayette, Louisiana where the Town Talk will be printed in their pressroom.

It will be the first time since 1883 when the paper was founded that the paper hasn’t been printed in Alexandria.


Author: Andrew Godfrey

Retired from newspaper work after 38 years. Had served in the Army in Hawaii and Vietnam in the 60's. Am now retired and living in Sulphur, Louisiana.

11 thoughts on “Advances in Newspaper Production”

  1. Your video is great! It’s nice to see that linotype machines are still operating in the Bay area 🙂

    I stopped by JR Press today and they have one there. It was the first linotype machine I’d ever seen, and I was blown away by its intricate architecture. Must have been truly revolutionary for the time!

    1. Lars…I feel the same way about the linotype machine as you. The designer of the linotype machine was brilliant and a huge improvement over the letter by letter printing of earlier times when the letters were pulled out one letter at a time.

      I never operated a linotype machine but had a profound respect for anyone that operated one. I was in the page makeup area for most of my hot metal career.

      Our newspaper started in 1883 so we have seen a lot of changes. I was there 6 years before the linotype machines were victims of automation when we went to the cold type process in 1972.

      Appreciate your comments and glad you are able to see linotype machines still today. I don’t know of any printing place still using them in this area.

  2. Reblogged this on Nostalgia and Now and commented:

    This post hasn’t been published since September 8, 2009, but it describes the changes made in newspaper technology from the time I started at Alexandria Town Talk in August of 1966, till today when very few employees remain from those days if any.

  3. Andy – Thanks so much for this! My friend’s mom was the linotype operator at the Liberty (NY) Register when I was growing up, and I used to watch her operate the machine. She never explained exactly how it did what it did, but I marveled at the growing pile of slugs as she keyed away. Now I know!

  4. Geoffrey….Glad you enjoyed the post. Makes it even more interesting for you, since you have seen a linotype machine in operation. Handled those slugs right out of the machine and they were very hot. I used to use what they call a Ludlow stick to fix Page One banner headline, while working at Monroe, Louisiana paper. Loved working as a page makeup person, since I knew the baseball scores before they were printed in the paper.

    1. Gay, I have had problems with posting photos on my blog. When I go back to an old blog the photos may be missing and with close to 900 blogs can’t keep track of them all. You would think if a photo is the Google photos, that it is OK to use, but apparently people have a way of removing photos from my website. Would have loved to use more photos of newspaper production, since I spent 38 years of my life in newspaper production.

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