Print is dying. Digital is the future. At least that seems to be a common topic of discussion these days among journalists. Media has come a very long way since the first printed word, and drawings on cave walls have transformed into Facebook posts on iPads.
There are those today who don’t know what life would be like without smartphones, television, the internet or tablets; how would they get their news? But there are those of us still who remember picking up a tabloid-sized newspaper to read and catch up on current events.
The 100th anniversary of the Pasadena City College Courier got us thinking retrospectively. Where did the Courier start? How is it different from the way it is today? How is the apparent digital move going to affect the Courier?
The PCC Courier publishes most of its stories online before they go to print. This is done for the sake of getting the news out to the public in the most timely fashion possible. Online publication is immediate and, for the most part, at everyone’s fingertips. As a principle, timeliness has always been a staple of the news industry. So, the jump from print to digital seems a logical one.
But where did the Courier come from?
With all of the new mediums that exist today, and the up-start news companies, not all publications can say they have the history that might be typically associated with being a “newspaper.”
The Courier started out as the Pasadena High School Chronicle in 1915. Since then, there have been many editors-in-chief and faculty advisers for the newspaper. One adviser who was credited with really turning the paper around and pulling it out of its “dark ages” was Mikki Bolliger.
Bolliger came to PCC with both a journalism and a teaching career already under her belt but that didn’t stop her first day on the job from being a rocky one. After passing up the summer relief job at the Los Angeles Times to teach at PCC, Bolliger effortlessly proved she was the woman to take the Courier and turn it into a true news publication for the students, by the students.
She showed up on her first day and was met by no one. She had no idea where to go; no one had told her. She found her way to Human Resources where they finally showed her to her office. The print shop called: it was deadline for the paper. Again, no one had informed her or given her the schedule.
Bolliger needed to go down to the print shop but had no idea where to go. A couple of students had come in and introduced themselves and proceeded to show her where the print shop was.
“At that time, everything was done in hot metal.” Bolliger said. “I think they tested me at the print shop because there was an error somewhere in the first page, and the guy goes, ‘there’s a problem with this page, tell me what to do.’”
Bolliger did, and they managed to get the first edition out the following week.
The Courier was a four-page, full-size paper when Bolliger came in and had three advisers, including her. Along the way and over the years, the paper has made its way to an eight page layout with news, opinion, features, lifestyle, arts and entertainment and sports sections.
Every semester, the paper’s staff would fluctuate between as few as 12 to 22 students. Today the Courier staff is made up of two classes: the journalism and photojournalism classes. There are currently 39 staff members on the Courier, including 13 editors and two staff advisers.
The biggest thing that changed for the paper besides moving away from hot metal presses was the addition of the photojournalism students. Prior to the photojournalism class offering photographers for both the school’s newspaper and magazine, photographers were picked from the art department.
This was a problem because the art department had no idea what was needed for a news photo. They took really great photos, but didn’t understand deadlines.
“They would take pictures of something, and then take the negatives home,” Bolliger said. “When you’re setting a newspaper in hot metal, you can’t just print a picture and scan it, they had to send the picture out to an engraver.”
The Courier didn’t always have an office full of shiny computers running Adobe InDesign and Photoshop. It used to be composed of typewriters and a darkroom. Eventually some electric typewriters were acquired and then talk about computers helping with production started buzzing around. But the Courier didn’t get one of those yet. First, we had punch tape, and all the news came out in long strips of paper before being printed.
The average day of production took around 10 hours. Surprisingly, not much has changed today. Although everything is digital now, the editors are in the office all day long on Wednesdays working on layout design for the eight-page spread. Sometimes we don’t call it a night until after midnight. Those are the just the bad nights though.
Eventually the paper moved away from the print shop to a computer. With the computer, PCC became the first college newspaper in California to have it’s very own website.
At the time, the Board of Trustees didn’t understand the importance of this. Bolliger took a trip to Ventura College, which had Pagination at the time, and learned about page layout on the computer. She was hooked and wanted that for PCC. She came back and was able to convince the administration.
Today the Courier is run out of an office of Macintosh desktops and a local printing press. Although digital is the common means of production today, it all started with a process called hot metal typesetting.
The hot metal process involved an operator sitting in front of a unique keyboard with 91 keys: thirty black ones for lower-case letters, thirty blue ones for punctuation and figures, thirty white keys for upper-case letters and one more for the space. Stanley Coutant, one of the college’s oldest typesetters, remarked on how strange the layout would seem in comparison with today’s keyboards.
“As children we learned the alphabet: ‘ABCDEFG…’ The Linotype and Intertype keyboards are arranged ETAOINSHRDLUCMFWYPVBGKQJXZ,” Coutant said.
Today, typing something up is as easy as turning on your computer and starting up a word processing program. Hot metal had just a few more steps involved.
One touch of a key on the Linotype would release a brass mold called a matrix, which has a letter embedded into it. After the operator had finished typing up a line, he or she would press a lever that causes the line of matrices to rise to a different location in the machine in front of a mold that pumps type metal through it. Type metal was composed of lead, tin and antimony and heated at five hundred and sixty degrees Fahrenheit. After the molten type metal was pumped through, the operator would have a solid piece of still very hot metal representing a “line of type.”
After all of the lines of type were produced, they would be arranged first by columns and then by pages. They would then be moved as a “form” to a printing press. The press inked the letters on the lines of type and then pressed sheets of paper against the form. And the printed pages were created.
There are of course many more steps to take before a page can even be printed, however, and a majority of these steps are still the same today. The process, though, essentially removes the typesetter as a necessary component for a well oiled, functioning newspaper machine.
Staff writers will type up their stories in Microsoft Word and then e-mail their first drafts to their editors. After receiving copyedits, they then submit the story online through a publishing website called WordPress. On the night that the newspapers are produced, the editors will copy the stories from online and paste them onto the digital version of the page using Adobe InDesign.
The entire layout, including design and “setting of lines,” is done through InDesign now, which has essentially replaced the hot metal typesetting machines. Everything can now be done with the click of a mouse and without molten hot metal.
After the pages are all designed and saved as PDF files, they are reviewed one final time, compiled and then sent to our printers electronically. The next morning, stacks of newspapers arrive on campus and are distributed by the staff.
This is still a very time-consuming process, of course, but no one has to go deal with typing out one line at a time or searing hot metal plates.
Technology has made leaps and bounds in producing new mediums through which news can be delivered. Even today, although the Courier prints 1,500 physical copies of the paper, we also create full PDF versions of the weekly publication and post them online through Issuu.com, where they are also available for download.
Digital may very well be the future of news, but for now at least, the two co-exist.