(October 2019) -I remember the first time I ever encountered a typesetting machine. I was in a high school program in St. Petersburg at the Poynter Institute, which is still today an esteemed research and training institution for journalists. An instructor sat each of us a ta keyboard and said, “Whatever you do, don’t touch the key with the bell symbol on it.” To this day, I don’t recall what that key was for, but I remember being nervous that if I hit it, the entire system would shut down. It would be the equivalent of yelling, “Stop the presses!” —something every journalist longs to do at some rare point in life when there’s major “breaking news” and you need to pull back pages for revisions.
My next encounter with a typesetting machine was at what is now St. Petersburg College. During my first week on the school newspaper staff, I was introduced to a machine about the size of a golf cart. I asked why it was nicknamed Lucille, and everyone said, “Oh, you’ll find out soon enough.” It turns out the machine often stopped working, usually when we were on deadline. The staffers would channel their inner Kenny Rogers and sing, “You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille.”
Printing newspapers is a lot like working in a factory that manufactures products we’ve written about in this issue, including boats, computer components, microchips and boxes. Every piece of the operation is dependent on every other piece of the operation. Every job is just as important as the next.
In my first job after college, at what is now Florida Today newspaper, the printing press crew in the Cocoa plant went on strike one night. As a junior editor, I was assigned to go to the press room and help out. My job was to load inserts into a carousel type of sorting machine. My coworkers thought it would be funny to give me the Sears store inserts for the Sunday paper so I could look at my last name over and over. It sounded like a simple job, but it was difficult. You might remember that scene from “I Love Lucy” where Lucy and Ethel are working in a factory and the chocolate candies come along so fast on the conveyor belt that they can’t keep up. You get the picture.
After that, I always loved being in the press room and went every chance I got. There’s nothing like the sound of the printing presses and the smell of fresh ink. When I worked at the Orlando Sentinel, I would pop downstairs to learn how things operated. With each modernization of equipment, my coworkers would tell me how their jobs had changed. My relationship with the press operators came in handy because there was one time they had my back when I actually had to call out, “Stop the presses!”
It was a Saturday night, and I was in charge of the newsroom for the last hour of the shift. Most people had gone home except a few of us on the news and sports desks. Right about then, Mike Tyson bit off the top of Evander Holyfield’s right ear during a highly publicized boxing match in Las Vegas. The sports world exploded. No one had ever seen anything like it. I thought, “Oh yes, we will need to get that on Page A1”and called the press room.
Today, so much of manufacturing, just like newspaper and magazine production, involves digitization. If you’re in manufacturing, I know you have your own stories about how technology has changed the jobs in your industry over the years. I hope you’ll share those with me. Thanks for walking with me down memory lane.