Monday, January 16, 2006

Copyboy

I love depictions of old-time newspaper offices:

"Boy, take these to the composing room," Larkin barked. "And any time you see copy on that spindle, you run it down there. Don't wait to be told."

So Poulenc had grabbed the sheets off the spindle and hurried down a flight of grimy stairs to a smoky room where three clattering machines made a racket. He found a likely-looking boss in a bib apron and handed him the copy. The man grunted.

"Boy, don't run off," the man said. So Yves had a chance to examine the new Linotype machines, which could set type much faster than ever the fastest hand compositor. Acrid smoke drifted up from hotpots containing molten typemetal that would be cast into slugs, or lines of type, by those rattling monsters. The smoke seared Yves' delicate throat and lungs, and he desperately wanted to get out of there. Eventually that foreman handed him a sheaf of galley proofs, long thin sheets of newsprint containing a column of trype printed with sticky black ink.

"All right. You're new. One set to the proofreading room, the other to Larkin."

Thus did Yves hurry back to the newsroom and deposit one set with the editor, and then wandered through various burrows until he found a room where several people sat on high stools under a glaring bulb and read galley proofs that were laid on a slanting surface. Grimy dictonaries, a city directory, and other reference works lay about.

"Boy," said one of them. "Take these downstairs."

So Yves returned to the composing room with the proofed galleys. And then he brought a big page proof up to the editor. This was an image of an entire page, with ruler lines between columns, headlines, woodcuts, and filler material. It amazed Yves that this plant could create a whole paper in a few hours, break it all down, and create an entirely different product the next day. This was no factory producing the same items by the thousands, but a place where each day's product was a custom job, and only a few items, such as nameplates, mastheads, and other standing material, remained the same issue after issue.

--Richard S. Wheeler, Second Lives

When I first started working for the newspaper in my hometown, the presses were in a building half a block up the street.

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