McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

September 24, 2011

It’s the end of an era

By Kandra Wells

McALESTER — News that the McAlester News-Capital’s press would be shutting down Oct. 3 was like a kick to the gut. Several weeks later, the news still stings; ever more so for the men and women we will no longer see traipsing through the newsroom every morning, or smiling as they bring us those first copies of the daily paper, still wet with ink.

That era ends next week.

Chris, he’s thinking about going into business for himself. Larry asked about press jobs up in Joplin. And Nathan and Tallulah, with a new baby, are weighing what options they may have as their two-income household goes to down to zero. Even David, the guy covered in ink whose perpetual smile never fades under his baseball cap, has been spotted here and there with his brow somewhat furrowed.

We’re not the first newspaper in the state to shut down its press; we long have counted ourselves unique as among the few small papers in the country where the building rumbles each day as the press rolls.

It’s fascinating to watch the production of our newspaper.

There’s the magic Tallulah performs, taking long lengths of negatives from the film developer machine and cutting them into page lengths, then burning each onto a thin sheet of metal on a second machine. The metal sheets are then fed into a developer machine that washes each with a chemical, and the page’s text and images emerge — like magic.

From there, each metal sheet containing the black and white images of two facing pages are attached to rollers on the press. Ink — black, red, yellow or blue — is applied under each roller; spindles hold huge rolls of paper.

It’s all very complex and technical; it’s a process we’ve watched, albeit bits at a time, over months that have stretched into years and decades.

It’s exciting to watch the press start up; a loud buzzer rings as the press begins to roll, a warning to all within reach who may want to keep their fingers, hands and toes. The pressmen rush from unit to unit, making adjustments, pulling levers, turning knobs. Then they rush back to the folder — where the finished product rolls off — grab a copy and make further adjustments. Some scramble up ladders to upper units to make the adjustments, all very knowledgeable and confident in what they are doing.

It’s a mystery to most of us who have been watching it for decades.

Then the press picks up speed as yet another dial is turned after nearly-imperceptible nods are directed to the lead pressman. The noise level rises until it reaches a near deafening crescendo (the pressmen wear earplugs or headphones) and the presses roll at full speed. That roar rumbles through the building; if you work here, you know when the press is running.

Finished, folded newspapers feed onto a belt, where they are scooped up and rushed to tables where men and women are waiting to insert the stacks of that day’s advertisement and special sections. Barely a few minutes after the press begins, dozens of finished newspapers are bound and bundles are handed to the carriers waiting at the back door.

It’s then a mad rush to get that final product in the newspaper racks around town, all so that you, the reader, will have it in time for your lunch break.

Those papers will still be in the racks and at your front door every day, at the same time. The process to make that happen will be a bit different, though.

Our parent company, Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., is making the same change at papers all over the country. While community newspapers such as ours continue to gather and report the news in our hometowns, the actual printing of the newspapers is consolidated.

Over these last few months, it’s happened at CNHI papers all over Oklahoma. We’re all making the move to one of three CNHI presses in the state: the Enid News & Eagle, the Norman Transcript or the Muskogee Phoenix, which will be printing our paper.

Those three newspapers have the brightest, shiniest presses, with the newest technology. They run more efficiently, more cleanly, and faster. Their colors are brighter; their photos are clearer.

We’ll miss our old, clunky, loud press. It’s been here for more than 50 years, shaking things in our building and the community, printing McAlester’s news, both the good and the bad.

And we’ll miss our people: Tallulah, Nathan, Chris, David, Gina, Carla, Mark, Bronson and Larry.

Goodbye, guys and gals. The rest of us will carry on the mission, but it will never be the same again.