Friday, July 27, 2012

How a little production difficulty brings out the best in journalists


I AM FROM the last generation of journalists to work in ‘hot metal’, where type was set on labyrinthine machines and made up into upside-down back-to-front pages by men in aprons who held all the cards.
At the old Cambridge Evening News in Newmarket Road I found out the hard way what I could and couldn’t touch (anything) but also learned a respect for the beauty and integrity of typography.
“I haven’t got f****** rubber type,” shouted Nigel from the random where headlines were made up. Either the letters fitted on the line or they didn’t. No kerning, tracking or electronic wizardy here.
I can still count a headline from a hundred paces and cast off copy – decide how much it would make as set text – both now skills consigned to the history books.
Fast forward 35 years and this week we had a harsh reminder of the fickle finger of production fate. Our normally robust system let us down and we lost about 240 hours of production time. With nearly 40 papers to get out the door this could have cost us dear.
And everything did get done – eventually – but not without a delayed distribution here and a reprint there.
And that was all due to the spirit, flexibility and not to forget good humour of all our journalists across the region.
Back in the 80s I was production editor of Today, Britain’s first ‘electronic’ newspaper, wobbly colour ‘n’ all. The big mainframe Hastech system didn’t work very well and the Datrax system to send the pages to press was even worse. But it brought on the best in everyone, determined as we were to conquer the technical issues and produce the best possible newspapers.
And so it was this week. Contrary to what some nameless online trolls might say no-one was forced to work extra hours but everyone who could, did. They will be entitled to time off, but as of now no-one has even asked for it.
That’s what we do as journalists and that’s why I love this game so much.

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