While I’m on vacation this week the blog posts will feature a picture-a-day from my publishing past.
This is the composing department of the Florida daily newspaper that I worked at in the early 1990s.
The first photo shows the slanted desks at the back of the room. Editorial prepped the articles and printed them out. These articles were passed to us with a layout of the newspaper page sketched in pencil. We cut up the waxed articles on the green mats with Exacto knives (we went thru many a night and all had scars on our fingers). Then we positioned the waxed articles on blue grids and rolled them down to make them stick. God forbid there was wax on the roller—it could rip up the whole page and we’d have to go back to the editor for reprints of the articles. We folded up the ends of the articles that overran and the editor would make cuts with a blue pen that wouldn’t reproduce on camera. We used printed tape to make the lines between the articles—you can see it hanging on the peg boards above the desks. The sections of the paper came to us in this order: first was Life at 4 p.m., then Local News around 8 p.m., then either Main News or Sports 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Which section came to us last depended on if there was a big game that night. We hated when games went into overtime. Our shoulders were hunched from working over the cutting mats all night. But it was fun.
The second photo is the other end of the production department where the ads were created. We composed ads during the slow times between sections. They had just gotten Quark when I started and that’s when I learned to compose on the computer. We could also get on the AP Wire and catch up on the news. That’s were I first read about Kurt Cobain’s death. The most exciting night at the paper was pasting up the OJ Simpson verdict.
And the thrill when Michael Keaton yelled out, “I’ll be in Composing” in the 1994 movie The Paper!
I learned a great appreciation for grids and deadlines and just getting the job done right the first time. Yet because we were second shift, the attitude was relaxed and the trash talk was hilarious. Why leave? Books (and a normal sleeping schedule) were calling my name.
There must be other former newspaper composing folks out there. Leave your memories in the comments!