Inside the NYTimes: “A Night When Our Presses Rocked”

From an Inside the Times story by Sarah Bahr headlined “The Night Our Presses Rocked”:

At a New York Times printing plant in College Point, Queens, the soundtrack is usually the rapid thwap, thwap, thwap of blank paper turning into the next edition. But one night in February, thanks to a famous Beatle and the singer Dominic Fike, things got a little more musical.

“Have you,” Mr. Fike sings in a music video shot at the plant, “read the paper?” The song is a cover of Paul McCartney’s “The Kiss of Venus,” and Mr. Fike is shown at the plant taking in the 14 miles of conveyor belts ferrying copies of The Times all around him.

With the presses rolling and assembled copies sailing overhead, he glances at the dizzying activity and sings, in verses he added to the track, about people’s differences on issues and the media. “What’s your take on it?” he asks.

The 78-year-old former Beatle himself makes a cameo at the end of the video, seated on a bench outside London. He whistles the tune as the camera zooms in on the copy of The New York Times International issue he is perusing. Mr. McCartney slowly lowers the paper to reveal wide eyes and a shock of gray hair. Then he raises his eyebrows and grins.

“Paul whistled that perfectly the first time,” Jack Begert, who directed the video, said. “He’s elite.”…

So how did The New York Times score a starring role in Mr. Fike’s video?

Mr. Begert said that he considered “The Kiss of Venus” a reflection of the stop-and-go energy of modern life — and that when the time came to conceptualize a video, his first thought was New York. “It’s still and beautiful, but also crazy,” he said.

The video’s creative director, Reed Bennett, suggested the Times printing plant. “I was like, ‘That’s perfect,’” Mr. Begert said. “I wanted to link back to the theme of one person feeling small but also like they have a really important place in the universe.”

The cavernous, 550,000-square-foot plant — about the size of 11 and a half football fields — prints copies of The Times each night, along with copies of Newsday and USA Today.

The presses are generally quiet during the day, but at night, the seven cerulean blue behemoths — each several stories tall — roar to life….

The late edition of the paper goes to press at about 10:15 p.m., so a video crew of eight showed up a little before then on a Friday night in February to scout potential shots, Mr. Begert said. After that, the pressure was on: They had a few hours — max — until the presses shut down for the night….

Once they began shooting, Mr. Fike marveled at the organized chaos happening around him.

“I don’t know what I expected, but it was surreal,” he said. “It felt like the North Pole, like Santa’s elf factory on the evening of Christmas.”

This isn’t the plant’s first on-screen appearance. It got around two minutes of time in a scene in “The Bourne Legacy” — which took three days to shoot — and has been featured in episodes of “30 Rock,” “Elementary” and a couple of commercials.

Mr. D’Andrea, who has worked at Times production facilities for 46 years, said visitors were often taken aback by the plant’s team of laser-driven robots, which glide around replacing rolls of paper on the presses.

“People are always like, ‘I didn’t know you could do that,’” he said.

But Mr. Fike had the opposite reaction. “I was surprised by all the original machinery and how old it was,” he said. “Everything that ever happened was printed there, recorded and written down.” Maybe not quite everything, but still plenty of history….

Although Mr. Fike is not an avid news consumer, the experience of seeing the presses and sensing some of the history there might have had an influence on him. “I’m not a news guy. But I love the NYT and I’m going to start reading the news,” the 25-year-old singer said. “That’s what people do when they get older.”

Well, perhaps, but reading the news can help keep you young, too. Just ask a 78-year-old whistler.

Sarah Bahr is a reporter on the Culture desk and a member of the 2020-2021 New York Times fellowship class.

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