Those Who Can't, Usually Do By Five : Putting The Paper, Yourself To Bed

Inkblots: Technology Weighs Off With Tradition

It's been more than a year since I last page-proofed The Crimson, the night of the last press run of the 123rd Guard. The 124th Guard just had their own last press run; I suspect it was much like ours--the same tears, the same laughter, the same memories, and the same ink-stained hands. Like I did, the last thing the proofer did last night was sign off, with a -30- in the weather slug and the open book.

It's been the same way for generations. Things don't change much at 14 Plympton St. Year in and year out an eclectic group of students puts out a daily newspaper with the same mix of joy and frustration. And throughout it all Patrick R. Sorrento rules the basement, yelling at us to get it done better and faster.

But when I returned for the shoot in November, things were different. The paper had been redesigned. My years of reporting, assistant night editing, and page-proofing didn't help me much. The new arrangement of the paper meant that I couldn't help much with the computer.

As the proofer Thursday night of shoot week I was relegated to doing things by hand amidst all of our technology.

The Crimson is an odd mix of blood, sweat and tears ... and Bill Gates.

The night of the last press run I wanted the reporters to finish writing early, before 10 p.m., so that the final issue would roll of the press not much after 1 a.m. Reporting by phone and e-mail and writing straight on to the computer screen wasn't going to get them there any faster. What mattered was how long it took a source to call back and how long it took the reporter and editor, staring blankly at that computer screen, to come up with the perfect lead. Technology doesn't help with things like that.

A finished story is sent downstairs along computer wires. It's a nearly instantaneous process: the story disappears from the screen of the PC in the newsroom and reappears on the screen of a Mac in the PRS room, used for layout, just seconds later.

But then things slow down again. The assistant night editor has to cut and paste to get the story to fit on the computer-imaged page. And headlines have to be written. It requires more brainpower to come up with the perfect sentence to encapsulate the entire story, serious where necessary, filled with puns when possible. Again, technology doesn't help with things like that.

Well, maybe it helps a little. We no longer have to count the letters to make sure the headline will fit. The magical computer process of kerning makes our letters just a little bit bigger or a little bit smaller so the perfectly-worded headline is just the right size.

With headlines done, the printer spits out a proof of the page. The whole page, every word, every comma, and every quotation mark has to be checked for accuracy. Despite spell-check (which somehow the reporters and editors always forget to use), technology doesn't help with things like that.

I stand with my hot-pink proofing pen, my head aching from reading that ultra-tiny print and the fluorescent glare of the overhead lights and try to figure it out: Is it there or their? Is Ted Kennedy's class year right? What about Ted Kaczynski's? Is his name spelled right? It's closing in on 1 a.m. and there are several pages to go. Technology won't help now. I just have to keep reading.

The paper is finished. As I stand upstairs writing my last official close-out note, a magical, technological process is taking place downstairs. When the assistant night editors hit "print" on the computer screen, the page appears not on a piece of paper from the printer but on a negative from the Imagesetter. It's a giant version of those things we get back from CVS when our film is developed. Those negatives, in turn, are burned onto metal plates for use in the press.

And then technology stops again. I return downstairs with the rest of The Crimson's staff--young and excited as well as old and tired--and watch Brian put the plates in the press, start the giant machine by hand, and carefully, manually adjust the knobs and levers so everything is working perfectly.

We catch the very first copies our very last paper. The ink stains our hands. Were this some other night we might have had to stuff a Section B into the news section by hand. Those nights the ink is up to your elbows, your back and neck ache from leaning over the large, bulky sheets of newsprint. There was no technology to help with things like that.

Tonight, though, it's just the tips of our fingers which get stained. That's enough. I once was told that once newsprint ink gets on your hands, it enters your bloodstream and stays forever.

Thank goodness there's no technology to help with things like that. Associate Managing Editor,   123rd Executive Board