THROWBACK THURSDAY: Newspaper production has changed since The Independent made its debut in 1987
By JAMES WEAR
Things are a bit different than they were some 30 years ago when Jim Linzy Hudgins launched The Independent in October 1987, and while it wasn’t until a few months later that I joined the staff, I can still lay claim to being the paper’s first official editor. Initially, I was a part-time employee with my title in the staff box listing me as “part-time hackwriter,” a title Linzy granted me at my request after I pointed out that he, as publisher, was listed as “chief cook and bottle washer.”
After a few weeks, after more advertising dollars rolled in and Jim was able to justify putting me on full-time, we continued to publish (in tabloid format) a newspaper that claimed to be “the only newspaper that gives a hoot about Liberty Hill.” Other than Jim and me, our staff was limited to Barbara Sybert, who passed away just recently, and Jim’s wife, Shirley.
We didn’t have a computer. Instead, we set our type on an IBM Selectric typewriter, setting our margins at two inches and our type at 12 points. Each week, Jim would run over to Georgetown where a printing company would set our headlines, and as far as photos, Jim or I would drive down to 620, where there was a one-hour photo place known as Moto-Photo that would develop our black and white film.
Back in those days, we laid out each page on a grid sheet, with scissors and X-acto knife in hand. Adhering our copy to the grid sheets involved very carefully applying hot wax to the back of the strips of paper we’d typed our stories on.
Layout at the time involved the use of a ruler known in printer circles as a pica pole that we’d use to measure copy and see if it was going to fit in the hole where we hoped to place it. If it came up a bit short, it might mean a trip down to Dr. Jerry Casebolt’s office in downtown Liberty Hill where Jerry and wife Pam had the only copier in town that could enlarge or reduce the size of an image. It would sometimes result in an oversized headline that was perhaps out of proportion to the length of story below it, but not often…I’d learned to write headlines at my first newspaper job in Lampasas, and that was back in the days when we had to memorize units of measurement. A capital “M” for example, was two units, or two picas; while a lower case “J” was only a half a pica.
Back then, for example, a two-column story totaled up 25 picas for the maximum length of a headline, and so while coming up with the proper words to describe the story one also had to consider if the words chosen would add up to 25 picas, or shortly less.
Nowadays, typesetters on computers merely shrink or bump up the size of type a couple of percentage points and viola! Fits perfectly.
Our trips to the printer in Georgetown and our trips to Moto-Foto ended after I convinced Jim to buy a piece of equipment known as the Compugraphic 7200, which was used to type all “display” type (anything larger than 12-point), and allow me to set up a darkroom so I could develop our film.
The darkroom was a bit of a challenge. At that time, the newspaper had relocated to the Stubblefield building in downtown Liberty Hill and the only space available was an old tin shed behind the office, which also served as Jim and Shirley’s residence…they lived in the upstairs portion and the downstairs was the newspaper office.
The old shed’s roof was full of holes, not big ones, but big enough to allow sunlight to seep through; and as developing 35mm film required total darkness, I had to wait until well after sunset before developing our film. There were days, when we were running behind schedule, that I’d find myself in the darkroom shortly before sunrise, racing the clock to get all the film developed and photos printed before daybreak.
Placing a border around ads and certain news copy (boxing it, we’d say) involved the use of what we referred to as border tape, and while my personal favorite was two-point, some border tapes were decorative. For example, for an ad focusing on Christmas season, we might fall back on a tape with a series of Christmas bells, or tiny little Santa faces. There were border tapes with patriotic themes and other holiday seasons as well.
During our first few months of operation, we’d drive over to The Leader office in Round Rock and have our completed layout pages converted into what we referred to as page negatives. The printer would then, after stripping up the pages, burn a plate that would be attached to the web press, and within minutes, 1,000 copies of what represented a week’s work would be ready to load and return to Liberty Hill for distribution.
I soon coaxed Jim into buying what was known as a process camera and we then began producing our own page negatives. By this time we’d relocated the newspaper office into a larger building across the street and my concerns over light pollution from pinholes in the roof were over. With this step, our production costs were once again lowered, prompting the publisher at Round Rock to once remark, “I don’t know anybody that produces a newspaper cheaper than you guys.”
Producing page negatives and turning photos into what we termed as halftones required a bit of know how. From making sure the chemistry was the right temperature so that film didn’t develop too quickly, to pulling a film negative of a photograph from the chemistry and checking to make sure the tiny dots were the right size for optimum reproduction, required a set of good eyes, which in my younger days I was fortunate to possess.
After Jim and I went our separate ways, I don’t know if he continued with our production methods…Shortly before my departure, I gave a few lessons to a new employee on how the darkroom worked but a few lessons doesn’t add up to the years of experience I’d brought to The Independent and so I suspect the printers at Round Rock once again took over much of the work.
Other than a brief stint at a newspaper in Leakey and the three or four years I devoted to publishing the Shin Oak Ridge Reporter, where we used the same production methods as I had used at The Independent, I was away from the newspaper business for several years before taking a position at The Leader some 10 years or so ago.
It was there, the first morning I walked into publisher Jamie Williamson’s office, I had the first inkling I might be on the same path as the dinosaurs when, after I asked where the layout table and scissors and other assorted tools might be found, she looked at me and replied with a chuckle, “We don’t do it like that anymore.”
And so, it was back to school again as I learned new terminology…things like “jpegs” and “tifs” and “pdfs” instead of “halftone negatives” and “register marks” and “masks” and all those things that, when I first enrolled in an offset printing class in 1977, seemed so space age. Of course, I have to admit, I was a bit shocked when I learned in that first printing class that printers at the time had long abandoned Gutenberg’s methods.