Handwriting, Lead Slugs Give Way to Computerized Production

For an organization three years older than the telephone, The Crimson has seen its share of technological change.

And along the way, The Crimson's mission has broadened, and its methods have changed.

The Crimson has evolved from an organization whose only purpose was to print a daily paper to a "content provider" that distributes information over multiple channels--a Web site, weekly and monthly magazines, a course review guide, a guide to recruiting and, of course, the daily paper.

Once a building of typewriters and molten lead slugs, The Crimson today is filled with computers and high-resolution film, allowing a level of design, clarity of picture, and versatility of media unprecedented in the paper's 125 year history.

But there have been tradeoffs. Desktop publishing has raised design standards across the newspaper industry and The Crimson has followed suit, devoting more time and energy to layout than ever before. Close-outs are consistently later and extras no longer come out within minutes, since the time spent incorporating completed articles into a polished package has greatly increased.

But technology is offering solutions to its own short-comings, as publishing via the Internet allows The Crimson to announce breaking news to a potentially unlimited audience in a matter of seconds.

Refining the Process

Today, production of the paper is almost completely digital. Writers compose articles with the aid of word processors, editors download photos from the Web, and designers manipulate images on a computer screen.

It was not always this way, as Production Supervisor and Crimson fixture Patrick R. Sorrento can attest. Sorento started working as a press operator for The Crimson in 1967 and has been on board ever since.

Until 1970, Sorrento recalls, The Crimson relied on a "hot type" printing process in which molten lead was cast into "slugs" of lead letters and thrown onto a rack of type. Lead fumes and heat scorched the basement of the building while 15 press operators kept the presses running.

All of that changed in 1970, when The Crimson decided to switch to a "cold type" process in which a giant camera would capture each page of text on film. Production managers would shine light through the film, exposing a metal plate. The exposure, and subsequent development process, would change the surface of the plate, creating regions which either absorbed or repelled ink, and thus printed the image of the page onto newsprint.

During this period, writers composed articles by hand and gave them to a hired typist, who entered the stories into a device which encoded each letter as a sequence of punched holes on a spool of paper. The spool was then fed into a special printer, which decoded the punched holes and churned out a column of text.

Editors, with the help of Sorrento, would cut and paste the columns of text onto sheets of paper in a process aptly called "paste-up."

This system continued until 1986, when The Crimson purchased its first computer system under the leadership of President Jeffrey A. Zucker '86 and Business Manager Jonathan M. Weintraub '85.

Writers could now compose articles on "dumb terminals" connected to a central computer, much like the HOLLIS terminals still used in Harvard's libraries.


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