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Former pressroom brings back memories

There’s a part of the Independent that the public rarely sees, an area that was once at the heart of everyone’s publishing efforts.

The back of the building houses the press area and the former mailroom. I remember it well from the days I spent at the Independent back in the 1990s and shortly after the millenium.

In those days it was a bustling place. Huge reams of paper brought in from paper mills stood in a corner across from the press, a circa 1950s Goss machine. They would chug their way through the presses at a fast pace, constantly producing not just editions of the paper but also advertising circulars and commercial print jobs.

The press was loud, and it could be heard throughout the building. You got used to it, though, within the first several weeks on the job. It was part of the routine, a sure sign that there was always something to do. There was always the need to put forth our best efforts on the latest edition.

The one thing with which you had to hope for the best was phone interviews during a press run. You took the chance that the pressroom door might be opened when you’d be at an important stage of the interview, listening for a response to a pertinent question.

After the first occurrence it became a minor adjustment. It was just one of many noises that went with being part of a vibrant, sometimes hectic, place to work.

You had to be someone who enjoyed the hectic pace, who felt energized by it rather than drained. There’s one very important thing I’ve always told younger people who gave some thought to a job in journalism. I promised them it would never be boring.

That’s still true in 2021, but the profession has changed tremendously because of technology. It’s especially evident back in the former pressroom.

The old Goss still stands as though it’s waiting for the next crew to come to work. It was very well cared for by Ray Henle back in its early years, which enabled it to continue as a working press long after many of its counterparts were taken off line

The area that held the paper reams is now empty. The mailroom no longer contains publications waiting to be folded.

There’s enough remaining to call to mind its former industrial routine. That makes it one of the quietest places in town. You can imagine the echoes from an earlier time, especially if you’re old enough to have firsthand memories.

Many times, especially if it was raining or cold in the winter, we’d walk through the pressroom as a shortcut on our way uptown. That led to a sense of how it took many people with many different skills to put out high quality publications.

Author Paul Gruchow wrote in an essay about how old threshing machine photographs illustrate the way a big machine was often surrounded by at least four or five people who performed necessary labor.

In the 21st century it’s far more typical to have one person and several machines. Printing and publishing is no exception. It’s not unusual for an editor or a graphic arts technician to work with several computers.

I’m glad to have been part of the industrial way of doing it. I remember learning news composition when I first began working at the Independent. It was a transition from the newsroom to the back shop, a place where the pages came together with a well-planned mix of exacto knives, broadsheet pages, pica poles, border tape and plenty of wax.

That’s a lost art. Even so, it still is sometimes eye opening to consider how the old way had similarities to the new. The same basic vision for design is still the foundation. It still centers around creativity.

There are times I enjoy the modern day quiet when I work on an article. I wouldn’t entirely mind the rumble of the old press or the occasional noise from the door.

It’s an incredible change that took place in only a few short years. It’s something for the modern public to learn about and appreciate.

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