Have you ever heard the phrase, “He wrote a book about it” — meaning he wrote just a bit too long on a particular subject — and wondered where it came from?
No, I don’t know where the phrase came from, either. But, I can tell you that’s what we do every single day at the Newton Daily News.
In the English language, the average length of a book is about 60,000 words. The average length of a single issue of the Daily News clocks in right around 58,500. What makes our effort a little more amazing, however, is the time frame in which we write our “book.”
Typically, depending on how long it takes to write an original draft, it takes anywhere from six to nine months to take a written first draft to a final book. If you “self-publish,” you can cut that time frame down to about four months (although the quality of the book suffers as a result).
Granted, while some of the stories we’re working on may take days, weeks, and sometimes months to develop, we only take 24 hours to produce the same amount of words for each day’s newspaper. That’s probably not something you think about when you look at or pick up a copy of the paper.
In fact, I’m sure there are quite a few in the newspaper business who don’t even think about it.
We have a newsroom team of six — seven if you include yours truly — but it takes far more than the folks in the newsroom to make the newspaper “happen” every day. Sure, technology has made our jobs easier, but it has also made it much more challenging, too.
“Back in the day,” a reporter was expected to write stories and sometimes take photos.
Today, that same reporter is expected to write a web version (updated perhaps two or three times throughout the day) and a print version of the story, shoot photos for both the print edition and for the online photo gallery and/or slideshow, update the social media platforms to alert our online readers, and follow the comments on the web platforms to ensure no one is breaking with our policies on acceptable commentary.
And, from time to time, he or she may be required to post a video report about the story he or she has worked on. And once he or she is done with the reporting aspect of his or her job, the story still needs to appear on the page — and that’s something reporters in the 21st century are expected to know how to do.
But before the reporter touches those pages, they have to be set up. Ads have to be sold by the advertising staff and designed by someone in our creative staff.
The finished ads, once approved by the advertiser, have to be placed on their pages before they are ready for the newsroom.
We’re usually done with this step around 10:20 a.m. each weekday.
Once the pages are finished, the electronic files are transmitted to our composition department, where they are checked to ensure all of the photos and ads are properly formatted. Then, they are processed through our pre-press process.
“Back in the day,” pages were “pasted up” on cardboard sheets, which were then placed under a camera to create an image. That image was then transferred to the printing plate using a heat transfer process. A single plate could take several minutes to produce.
Today, the electronic image is imprinted directly onto the plate by a single machine. It may take a minute, perhaps two, to make a single plate using this process. It has taken hours off of the production process, meaning the news in the paper each day is just about as fresh as it can possibly be.
Once those plates are created, they must be individually placed on the press. Most pages require just one plate, but color pages require four plates — one each for the colors cyan, magenta, yellow and black — which then must be aligned perfectly to make the images and ads in the newspaper look as crisp as possible.
Our press isn’t the newest out there. In fact, it’s probably older than almost everyone currently working at the paper. But our pressmen know what they’re doing, and they do a pretty darn good job working with the “older technology” they have at their disposal.
The press is usually running with the “A” section around 11 a.m.
We print the “B” section of the newspaper first, about an hour before the “A” section. Once both sections are printed, they are assembled in our mailroom. First, the “B” section is inserted into each “A” section, then the mailroom staff inserts each of the advertising inserts and special sections that are scheduled to run that day.
Our goal is to have the newspaper “out” in our racks and in our carriers’ hands by noon each weekday.
Completed papers are put into bundles and given to their respective carriers and delivery personnel. Some of the papers are destined for racks, while others will appear on your respective doorsteps. Still others must be taken to the Newton U.S. Post Office to be delivered to our readers far and wide.
Meanwhile, back in the newsroom, our staff is already working on the next day’s newspaper.
We’re still working on a date to host John Jennings’ retirement open house. In the meantime, we’ve narrowed the search for his replacement and should have someone hired by the end of the week. I hope to be able to update you on both matters very soon.
Meanwhile, today marks the first day on the job for our newest newsroom team member, Nicole Wiegand. If you happen to run into her, be sure to say, “Hello.” You can expect to see some new stories from her very soon.
If you’re reading this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading it in English, thank a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.
Bob Eschliman is editor of the Newton Daily News. He may be reached at (641) 792-3121, ext. 423, or at firstname.lastname@example.org via email. Common Sense appears each Monday and Wednesday.