Bidding Farewell to the Herald-Tribune’s Printing Press

From a post on by Billy Cox headlined “Bidding farewell to the Herald-Tribune’s printing press”:

SARASOTA – Since 1983, rain or shine, on weekends, holidays and all points in between, copies of the Herald-Tribune have flashed through machinery with so many moving parts it evokes Rube Goldberg schematics.

Counting 18 units combining for more than 1,000 tons, including four towers standing some four stories high from basement level, plus a lateral spread of roughly 200 feet, the Goss Metroliner printing press located in a modified 106,000-square-foot warehouse at 1800 University Parkway is a marvel of mass production, even in its obsolescence. And when it completes its final press run tonight, it will go dark forever and join so many other descendants of the Industrial Revolution – in the scrapyard.

“It’s like a play, where everybody has to do their part or it doesn’t come off,” says press operator Kathy Capels, who, for 33 years, joined the rumble of what she and colleagues call “the daily miracle.”

“You’ve got the tension that builds when you’re trying to make deadline, and there’s always something that goes wrong – a water problem, a heat problem, an air problem, an oil problem – and you’ve got to troubleshoot it quickly.”

To be sure, this is not the end of the print version for the Herald-Tribune. Old-school readers can still get their newsprint fix every day, delivered to residential doorsteps or local stores. But to reach Sarasota, daily editions will come from remote printing operations in Stuart. Cost-cutting decisions by the company led to the decision to consolidate printing press operations in the state.

Publishing history’s first draft

For most of the old hands at 1800 University, the relocation of printing operations to Gannett Florida’s Treasure Coast plant 150 miles east marks the end of the line. All 95 press jobs are being eliminated. Count 62-year-old Rudy Valentino among them.

A press operator since his first newspaper gig outside Pittsburgh in 1977, Valentino joined The News-Press in Fort Myers in 1981. He bounced to the Naples Daily News in 2016 after Gannett purchased the Daily News and transferred Fort Myers’ production line to the newer press at Naples. When the Daily News shuttered its plant and began printing in Sarasota in early 2020, Valentino decided to give it one more shot. Shortly before the coronavirus struck, he said yes to the 160-mile round-trip commute up Interstate 75.

The rest is history. Next stop: a maintenance job somewhere closer to Fort Myers. But it will not compare with pushing history’s first draft through the presses at what Valentino calls “a cruising speed of 75,000 papers an hour.”….

“It could run faster, and it printed like a dream,” he says. “But there was no demand for it. They tore it down in 2020.”

Herald-Tribune press manager James Skene says the Goss Metroliner can crank out some 50,000 papers an hour. Inside a glass-paneled “quiet room” designed to mute the production noise, he commands a console board bearing a faint resemblance to that of the Starship Enterprise….

“There were times we would run all night,” says Skene, who also oversees the rollout of the Daily News, The News-Press, and the Tampa Bay Times – which publishes just two days a week now – as well as myriad related advertising and special-section inserts. “But nothing’s really busy right now.”

Founded in 1925, the Herald-Tribune moved its printing operations from downtown Sarasota into a former Montgomery Ward warehouse 38 years ago with state-of-the-art equipment to accommodate a seemingly limitless public appetite for backyard and regional news.

At its peak, the Herald-Tribune published 125,000 papers during weekdays and 140,000 on Sundays, recalls former executive editor and publisher Diane McFarlin.

‘As romantic’ as the newsroom

“Back in the day, the pressroom played as romantic a role in the story of newspapers as newsrooms,” states McFarlin, who recently retired as the Dean of the University of Florida’s College of Journalism. “It seems like every movie ever made about newspapers has the requisite shot of papers rolling off the press in the middle of the night and bundles being tossed onto delivery trucks. The presses were magnificent to see – especially when running at full speed and particularly when the ‘color towers’ were perched on top of the traditional press units.”

The Goss Metroliner is to Johannes Gutenberg’s screw-type ink press what the space shuttle is to the Wright Flyer. Gutenberg’s 15th-century contraption managed 3,600 individual pages a day. Gutenberg’s brainstorm triggered a revolution. It would jump-start the Protestant Reformation, energize the Renaissance, democratize science and define mass media for the next five centuries.

Still, if the German goldsmith could get a peek at its 21st-century incarnation at 1800 University, he would likely ascribe the relic to pure magic.

Gutenberg would be dwarfed by the architecture of workflow designed to turn massive spools of blank paper into newsprint. Some rolls weigh more than 1,600 pounds, and pressman Darwin Wilson takes aim at the spool on the summit of a towering stack. The claw of his forklift grabs the block, and his reverse gear beeps. As Wilson lowers his load to ground level, the clamp swivels the spool horizontally. It will eventually be tracked into the basement for mounting into the offset press.

“This is one thing I really like, dropping paper,” says Wilson, a pressman since 1975, whose next act will be with Flowers bakery. “Man, I’m gonna miss that.”

The spools await the news copy, prepared remotely on computers, where the page layout is transferred to film via lasers. The layout scans onto negative images and emerges onto thin aluminum plates, which are aligned and snapped onto cylinders. The plates run through four inks – black, yellow, magenta and cyan (blue-green) – pressed into rubber, which in turn presses images onto a blanket cylinder. The paper running across the cylinder absorbs the images, and those sheets are then fed into a folder that cuts and folds each one individually.

And then it’s off to the races.

Amid a clattering din made tolerable by earplugs, conveyor belts then ferry the completed packages streaming from the presses and into the mail room for stacking, bundling, insertions and distribution. A spot check of press operators suggests that chasing the inevitable glitches can be invigorating. “(Glitches) keep things from getting boring,” says Capels.

But the press crew are “more than technicians,” adds McFarlin, often catching “errant typos or fact errors.”

Production quality may be their job, but this is their community “and their newspaper.”

Working within a system as reliable as postal delivery, Skene can remember delaying publication only once.

“One of the biggest problems is power loss, which we’re still plagued with now and again,” he says. “But the only time I remember postponing a daily until the next morning was with that hurricane.” He’s referring to 2017’s Irma. “We didn’t want staff to be on the road during that kind of weather.”

If, during the coronavirus outbreak, reporters and editors were designated “essential workers,” they could still work, at least in part, from home. Press operators – not so much.

In August, longtime mailroom inserter David Wassinger, 62, succumbed to COVID-19. According to co-worker and dock supervisor Karen Lacaille, Wassinger was likely infected during a trip to Miami, after which he called in sick and never came back.

“I liked David. He was fun to work with, and he liked to joke around,” says Lacaille. “But around here, we’re always in close contact, you can’t stay 6 feet apart all the time. The key is just to be respectful and be careful. My nails are actually falling off because I wash my hands with so much alcohol.”

Lacaille was hired as a mailroom employee on Aug. 11, 1984. Whatever comes next will be hard-pressed to match the last 37 years.

“I could see the world through the newspaper, the minute it came off the press. I saw so many different things,” she says. “I remember seeing (Princess) Diana, her car, in the tunnel on the front page. We had to stop the press and we reran Charlotte (County). 9/11, the front page, the towers coming down, being a part of that. I remember all of it.”

Her earliest memories of the Herald-Tribune predate her awareness of the world at large.

“When I was a kid, I used to watch my grandfather read the newspaper every day, right in front of me, drinking coffee. And my grandmother.” Lacaille has five grandchildren now. “I remember, we used to take these bundles of papers to school for kids to read, but they don’t do that anymore.”…

Rudy Valentino could be the voice of his generation in comparing print versus digital media delivery platforms.

Her earliest memories of the Herald-Tribune predate her awareness of the world at large.

“When I was a kid, I used to watch my grandfather read the newspaper every day, right in front of me, drinking coffee. And my grandmother.” Lacaille has five grandchildren now. “I remember, we used to take these bundles of papers to school for kids to read, but they don’t do that anymore.”…

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