Testy Copy Editors

Wooden ships, iron men and Linotype
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Author:  J Kaufman [ Mon Aug 12, 2013 3:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Wooden ships, iron men and Linotype

Because your Southern California readers who have never seen a Linotype machine in action will immediately grok how a wheat "thrasher" works. Bonus: Truth in publishing.

Hometown U.S.A.: Saguache, Colo.
Today's news in centuries-old style
The Saguache Crescent might be the last newspaper in America still being put out with 19th century technology. To longtime publisher Dean Coombs, it's only practical.

Just inside the door of the Crescent's office sits the massive Linotype. Something of a cross between a pipe organ and a wheat thrasher, the noisy contraption spits out one-inch lines of type (hence the name) forged from a pot of 530-degree molten lead.

Coombs' grandparents bought the machine, once considered revolutionary technology, nearly a century ago and it hasn't budged since.

After the lines of type are arranged into columns and placed into page form, Coombs feeds it all into the 1915 printing press at the back of the building. With a hypnotic whir, the press lifts the pages one at a time like a giant pancake flipper.
"I'm not a journalist," he says with a note of horror in his voice. "I'm just the guy who puts out the paper."

He doesn't go to City Hall or drop by the courthouse to gather news. News comes to him. The squeaky screen door opens and someone plops down a note about an upcoming anniversary or retirement. There are also reports on the happenings at the quilt club, or a summary of church sermons (there are four churches in town) or an announcement of a new queen bee in the hive of a local beekeeper. He dutifully records it all.

It's the way newspapers in this country used to operate, long before reporters worked a beat, says Michael S. Sweeney, a professor at Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and a leading authority on newspaper history.

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