The onset of the digital age has impacted newspaper publishing in many ways, including here at The Exponent. But what sort of technology is used to put a newspaper together?
The planning for each day's issue of The Exponent begins about a week prior to press time. The editors hold daily meetings, called budget meetings, to discuss potential stories for upcoming issues. Editors from each desk—campus, city, features, sports, opinions, photo, and multimedia—present the assignments they have given to their reporters and identify related multimedia needs for the story. This is also when possible "box" stories—stories that will appear on the front page—are identified. The budget meetings are typically run by the managing editor, who oversees the actual construction of the newspaper.
After reporters are finished gathering information and quotes from various sources, they type their stories in the newsroom. Once the story entered into The Exponent's database, it is edited twice by different senior editors. Finally, copy editors fact-check every story to verify accuracy and are the "last line of defense" before the story is put on the page.
Pages are then placed on page templates created by the advertising staff. The process of laying out stories and graphics on the page is known as composing. This is when the next day's paper begins to resemble its final form. Composing obviously cannot not be completed until all the day's stories are finished, so this process can often stretch long into the evening.
Once composition is complete, the files are sent to the production team and are etched onto plates by a special machine that "prints" the plates. One plate must be created for each different ink color: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. The video shown at the side is at double speed since the plate etching process is often quite slow. The order of the plates shown are cyan, magenta, yellow and then black.
The plates are then taken to the press room, which, unlike most publications, is actually located on site at The Exponent. The plates are crimped so that they can attach to the rollers inside the press. Finally, the plates are installed in the press. All pages of newspaper are printed simultaneously, so printing cannot begin until plates for all pages (and all colors) have been installed.
Starting the press is quite dramatic to watch. The machine is slowly spun up while the printing plates are cleaned by a stream of water. Once the paper streaming from all the individual presses is "clean," levers are quickly thrown to begin inking the rollers and, thus, printing to the page. Even at slow speeds, the press can print many copies very quickly, so the press is carefully watched, tweaked and tuned all through the night while running.
Watching the paper run through the labyrinth of rollers and presses at full speed is the "cool" part. I have over an hour of raw footage of just watching the press run, but here is a video of some of my favorite shots of the press running at full speed. The night these videos were filmed, printing began around 11 p.m. and concluded the following morning just before 1 a.m.
Occasionally, the press must be stopped to fix mechanical issues or other problems. The night these videos were filmed, two of the color plates were accidentally swapped. The command to "stop the press" was far less dramatic than how it is it typically portrayed in pop culture. The press is always started slowly to ensure problems like this are caught before ramping up to full speed.
Finally, the paper coming from each of the presses feeds into a folding machine and subsequently into a large blade that cuts the assembled newspaper in one stroke. The stream of finished papers runs down a conveyor belt into a machine that stacks and finally bundles the papers for final distribution, all automatically.
This is first of a series of "behind the scenes" videos from around campus readers can expect to see in future posts on The Logarithm. If you have an idea for a cool behind-the-scenes video you would like to see, send us an email at email@example.com.