38 Years in Newspaper Production: Last 28 Years At Alexandria Town Talk

Page being built using cold type composition.

When I returned to Alexandria Town Talk, after working for Monroe Morning World for two years it was back to cold type composition again. I negotiated a raise to $190 a week, when I returned, which amounted to a little over $4 an hour. Ten years of experience and making $4 an hour was not exactly making me rich.

This paragraph from Farm Collector tells more about the cold type composition Town Talk had been using since 1972:

Beginning in the 1960s, hot type began to give way to cold type, which is technically neither cold nor type, but rather phototypesetting. Machines generate text printed on photographic paper. Every piece of text is then run through a machine that applies hot wax to one side (wax allows items to be repositioned multiple times), hand-trimmed and positioned on a page-size template.

Once a page layout is complete, a film negative of the page is created. That negative is used to expose the image of the page onto an aluminum plate, and the plates are applied to a printing cylinder on the press.

It was tedious work to place the ads on a page and then wrap the type and photos around the ads, since we had to cut the type to fit the page, according to the page layout. Sometimes a page would be built and an ad, for example which was 3 columns by 8 inches might actually be 4 columns by 10 inches. We then would have to re-do the page moving type and/or photos to make the ad fit the page. This was not easy to do working with paper, since we had to use an X-acto or razor blade, to cut the type where needed to fit the page.

Town Talk Starts Morning Paper

The Town Talk ended their afternoon paper and started a mornings only paper in 1981. The Town Talk missed by 2 years of having an afternoon paper for 100 years.

Some employees left the paper, when the morning paper was announced, since the composing room work was mostly done in the evenings.

The night work was tough on families, in which both spouses worked, especially if one worked days and the other nights.

 

Historic marker telling of history of Alexandria Daily Town Talk

 

Since we worked in the composing room building up pages we had a lot of interaction with editors, wire desk and sports desk employees.

Adras Laborde was the editor when I started working there and sometimes I had to take proofs of his column for him to read and check for errors.

Wallace Anthony was a longtime wire desk employee, that died four years ago. He might not have been the fastest at designing pages, but he was a perfectionist intent on producing an excellent front page.

Bill Carter was an excellent sports editor, who I enjoyed talking to in coffee shop many times about baseball.

Nelder Dawson was the first person I talked to, when applying for work at Town Talk and he was there for 50 years.

Helen Derr was the religious editor and often worked with her making any necessary changes to her Saturday church page.

Ron Grant was another editor and former photographer, who checked page proofs and was always willing to help, with any problems having to do with an editorial page.

Ethel Holloman was very particular about how her society pages looked. This was back in the day when society editor would attend weddings. She is even more famous for her investigative reporting about mistreatment of mental patients at Central Louisiana State Hospital. It would be interesting to check the Town Talk archives, so I could read her articles about the abuse of mental patients.

Jim Butler left the Town Talk way too soon, since he was an excellent editor, who was great to work with and enjoyed our conversations about baseball over the years.

Elizabeth Roberts Martin – She made the news herself when writing a review, of the Elvis Presley concert in March of 1977, which was less than 5 months before his untimely death.

 

 

This is the review reprinted by elvisconcerts.com:

 

 

CONCERT DATE: March 29 1977 (8:30 pm). Alexandria LA..

Elvis Concert Termed “Entertaining”
by Elizabeth Roberts
Alexandria Town Talk
March 30, 1977

There’s a show on stage at the Rapides Parish Coliseum that is staged very professionally – that’s with a capital “P” as in Presley. And it’s Entertaining – that’s with a capital “E” as in Elvis. But it’s not a grade A performance, I’ll grade it a B minus, but as I said, it’s entertaining.

There’s no need to rush and push tonight and there’s not a chance of seeing Presley other than on stage. He won’t begin singing until about 10PM (his plane doesn’t arrive until at least 8.30 tonight) and when he does here, he’ll be driven inside the coliseum so there’s no need to stand outside. Once you’re in your seat, you stay there. No rushing the aisles for picture-taking or for a closer look. The guards see to that.

Tuesday night Presley was on stage less than an hour; he was impossible to understand when (or if) he talked between numbers; his How Great Thou Art should have been How Loud Thou Art; he never said one word to the audience or mentioned how nice or not nice it was to be in Alexandria or said “hi, how are you, we’re going to have a good time tonight and hope you enjoy the show.” He came on stage, did a few numbers and then dashed off – no encores, no extra bows, no nothing.

He relied heavily on his back-up group and when one of the singers dropped a microphone after singing O Sole Mio, he made the guy sing it again. There were false starts on a number of songs and his repertoire was mostly 1950’s early-EP songs.

Yes, that’s how he got his start and those are the songs we screamed over years ago, but times have changed and so has Elvis. He’s not the skinny young man from Memphis by way of Tupelo and the Louisiana Hayride. He’s a good singer and a showman but neither talent showed up in Tuesday night’s show.

He should update his performance and add more contemporary numbers. He’s certainly capable – his version of Early Morning Rain was outstanding. The rest was pure early Presley: Jailhouse Rock, Blue Suede Shoes, I Got a Woman, C.C.Rider, It’s Now Or Never.

In between, a lackey followed him around, draping scarves around his neck, so Elvis could toss them to admiring fans. I’ll give The Man credit for consideration, though. He did remember there were hundreds of people sitting behind him and tossed a few scarves in their direction and did a couple of bumps and grinds. Of course, that set off the screaming masses who saw for the first time a bump and grind from the rear.

If you’re going to the show tonight and going only to see Elvis, there’s no rush. The “warm-up” program begins in the vicinity of 8.30PM. Tuesday, it ended at 9.27 for an intermission while we prepare the stage don’t forget the souvenir concessions outside.” At 9.57PM, the “Hot Hilton Horns” began playing the theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey” and the thousands of flashbulbs started exploding like strobe lights.

Then The Man appeared, dressed in gold-embroidered white jeans and jacket and a gigantic belt which he had to keep hitching up. Around his neck were two necklaces (a short neck chain and a gold coin on a gold chain) and on his left hand, a gigantic diamond ring.

There were the usual warm-up groups. Gospel singers in yellow-trimmed-in-black liesure tuxedos; the Jokers: an inspirational” comedian dressed in a denim jumpsuit embroidered with Walt Disney characters (On Gay Liberation: “If God had meant people to be that way, he would have created Adam and Freddie”); and a trio “The Sweet Inspirations” who were worth the admission price.

If you’re a people watcher, the concert is great fun. If you’re an Elvis fan, you might be disappointed. There’s more (and better) music on any record album of his you have.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Courtesy of Scott Hayward

A few more of the people who I have worked with over the years:

Richard Sharkey was known for checking and double-checking pages, before they went to the press. Then after the press started he would check the first papers rolling off the press and have us fix any mistakes made.

Cecil Williams was another editor in editorial department, who was fun to talk to.

Al Nassif was not only a sportswriter and later a wire desk employee, but also published Church Today on the side. Al was one of the nicest people ever to work for Town Talk, and employed me as a page builder for the Church Today for 13 years. It is amazing he could work two jobs and have dialysis treatments for many years.

Bob Tompkins  worked at both the Town Talk and the Monroe Morning World like me. It was good to see someone I knew from Town Talk working there in Monroe.

John Marcase will always be remembered, for his hard work on the high school football section every year and those horrific Friday nights, during high school football season, when he would make order out of chaos.

Melinda Martinez in the Focus department knew it was trouble when I visited the department. Either there was an error on the page or an ad had come up the wrong size, which caused her to have to rebuild a page, which was not exactly a picnic for her.

Mike Branigan was the composing room superintendent and was a problem solver of the first magnitude. I don’t know how many times we had to call him at home, with some major problem and a few minutes later he would be in the Town Talk composing room fixing the problem.

 Note: I know I am leaving someone out, but there are too many co-workers over the 36 years at the Town Talk, to mention them all in one article.

Moved To Camera Shop

Will never forget 1993, since that is year I was moved from page makeup to the camera shop. It was a challenge for a non-mechanical person like me and it took a long time to get used to it. Had no idea how hard it was to register photos using register marks and toning photos didn’t come easy for me. We had to register cyan, magenta, yellow and black negatives and if they weren’t registered properly it would make for a very fuzzy looking photo in the newspaper.

I don’t think the other camera shop workers liked me being in the camera shop, since I was clearly a novice that was not mechanically inclined. Changing the rolls of film in the dark for the full-page negative camera was always an adventure for me.

Paginating Classified Pages

I was eventually trained to build the classified pages using page pagination. I would first place the ads in the page using the computer, according to the classified layout, then after all the ads were in place would flow all the other classified type consisting of automobiles for sale, garage sales, etc. After the pages finished filling would place the legal type in the pages. Sometimes, we had more classified type and classified ads, than would fit in the section, so would have to make adjustments to make it work out.

Double truck ads like we did while in platemaking.

The hardest thing in the 38 years was building double truck ads, or as we called them double trouble. Cutting the middle out of the two page ads and then matching, without overlapping the two sides was very time-consuming. Black and white ads were bad enough, since they only had one negative, but the color ads took much longer, since we had to perfectly match up all four color negatives. There must be a way to do these same ads by now with computer.

Plate Made With a Platemaking Machine

Moved to Platemaking

Not sure what year it was, but was moved to platemaking and started working across the street adjacent to the pressroom.

Full page negatives would arrive in platemaking, then we would place them over a metal plate in a plate burner, which would make an impression of the page on the plate. Then we would carry the finished plates to pressroom and they would be placed on the press.

This was very hectic work and we would take most of the night, to get caught up the first time.

It was during this time, that I experienced high blood pressure problems. I went to VA hospital in Pineville and found out my blood pressure was 232/108 and nurse told me I was on the verge of a stroke.

Retired On Halloween Night

My last night of work was on Halloween night of 2004. I didn’t want to retire, but was in a position, where I really had no choice but retire.

Leaving work for the last time knowing I was ending 36 years with Town Talk, and 38 years in newspaper production was not easy. The 21-year-old kid that walked in the Town Talk in August of 1966 was now 60 years old and only two years from being on Social Security.

I will be 70 next week, but still think of Town Talk often. In fact I dream about working on the paper and trying to meet the deadline, then wake up and realize that part of my life is over.

Thanks for the memories to all of those I worked with those 38 years in newspaper production.

Sad Aftermath

The Alexandria Town Talk as I knew it longer exists.

One of the more troubling changes is that the pages aren’t even designed in Alexandria, but rather 857 miles away in Des Moines, Iowa.

Guess the editorial department is relegated writing stories and taking photos, except I guess the editors of different departments still decide, which stories will be used in the paper.  The Town Talk is more of a news gathering company and ad selling company, since the pages are designed in Des Moines, Iowa, the paper is printed in Lafayette, Louisiana and last I knew the circulation department is in North Carolina. I have heard that subscribers have to call North Carolina, if their paper isn’t delivered.

So much for Gannett being a boon to the Central Louisiana economy. They are more concerned about the bottom line, than about the local economy.

The pressroom across the street from the main building lies dormant and the Town Talk is now being printed 88 miles away in Lafayette, Louisiana. I don’t think I will ever understand, why the papers have to be delivered back to Alexandria.

The bulletin board with photos of all the employees is no longer filled and not even sure if it is still there. If it is still there doubt there is more than two rows of photos.

The composing room which once had about 40 employees doesn’t even exist, because of technology advances.

The saddest thing about the downsizing is that many of my co-workers have been let go by Gannett over the years.

The beginning of the end was when the Smith family sold the Town Talk, to Central Newspapers for $62 million in 1996.

Then four years later Gannett buys Central Newspapers as the Town Talk had three different owners from 1996-2000.

Town Talk employees had received a $150 Christmas bonus for many years, but Gannett ended that tradition almost immediately upon taking ownership.

Nationwideadvertising.com lists the Town Talk circulation in a year, which is not shown:

Advertise in the Alexandria-Pineville Louisiana “The Town Talk” Daily Newspaper. Printed mornings. Circulation: 34,437; Sunday: 39,585. 

Wikipedia now list the following circulation for the Town Talk:

The daily newspaper has a circulation of some 19,500 daily and 27,500 on Sundays.

I am hoping that there will always be an Alexandria Town Talk paper edition, since reading news on the internet can never match unfolding a paper, to read the latest news and sports.

I don’t know what the future holds for the Alexandria Town Talk, but for the sake of the present employees I hope  it is a long one.