III: Printing & Distribution
News according to the new
While the typesetting technology has settled
down fairly well (the only major change we can expect in the next short
while is full-page production, virtually eliminating paste-up), the
plate-making and pressroom stages remain in flux.
Laser plate-making and offset presses or
litho-style adaptations are
certainly improving and speeding the product, but these—and
actual distribution—remain the real bottle-necks in newspaper
The magic words may be Digitizing, Gravure and
Digitizing is already being used for (Is it Fifth
typesetting; several companies are on the edge of producing equipment
which can jump directly from computer to plate, including four-color
Gravure press manufacturers seem to have finally
solved the ancient
problems of speed and cost, so some experts are predicting
gravure-printed newspapers within five years. The sumptuous color
possible with gravure will answer the fierce pressure from advertisers
for better newspaper color.
But it's Facsimile that could have the greatest
impact on the newsroom.
Fax—the ability to transmit whole pages
from a production area to
a pressroom elsewhere—has been around for years. But the
process has been awkward and slow, and only in the last two or three
years has it really become viable for the press.
Today the Wall
Street Journal and the Christian Science Monitor
best-known examples of this process. The WSJ now is produced
simultaneously in a dozen places round the continent.
may look dull, but it has the largest daily circulation in
the U.S. Its 1.6-million overtook the New York Daily News
This fall, the flexibility of fax is being carried
to its logical
conclusion by the International
Herald Tribune for "global"
distribution: simultaneous printing in Paris, London, Zurich and Hong
Several dozen other papers round the world are now
transmission, scanning now is down to one or two minutes per page.
Fax is useful for several reasons: It leapfrogs
traffic snarls created
by clogged downtown areas or bad weather; it permits distribution to
awkward or isolated areas if there's a press available; and it permits
increasing regionalisation of newspaper editions, particularly useful
as dailies pursue readers fleeing to the suburbs. (A Chicago Tribune
executive predicted recently that by the year 2000 two thirds of all
Americans will live outside but close to city limits. The Suburban
Trib, a supplement to the parent paper, now appears in 35
Globe and Mail is the first Canadian newspaper to make
use of this technology, transmitting to Montreal and Calgary. The
Calgary edition is hoped to increase western G&M sales
by 20,000 to
25,000 a day. It will be relatively easy to add other printing
plants—even Yellowknife— later.
So eventually Canada may really have a "national"
At the same time, Canada's cheekiest tabloid could
Torontocentricity with regional editions. And why should Canada's
biggest daily be far behind? Similarly, papers like the Vancouver Sun
and Winnipeg Free Press could
circulate much more effectively in areas
they have trouble reaching, using facsimile via phone lines or
Scoffers will say that the large
the Star and
never go to facsimile because of
the large number of pages.
But will papers remain so fat—so obese,
some might say—in the future?
There are indications that papers have to shrink.
In the short term,
the newsprint crisis seems to be over. But the world supply of paper in
the long run cannot possibly keep pace with the steadily increasing
What happens, for instance, if the Chinese (all
gradually become newspaper readers? What happens if the price of
newsprint continues its staggering spiral? (I haven't got the figures
in front of me, but it must have quadrupled in the last decade.)
Worried New England publishers, for instance, last
fall drew up a list of ways of saving newsprint. They included:
- Prepare a list of optional features that may be eliminated when ads are tight;
- Encourage tight
writing and editing;
- Reduce heads,
subheads, kickers and other typographical devices;
- Cut out-of-area
sports and box scores;
- Eliminate op. ed. pages on tight days and the editorial page on Saturdays;
- Consider running ads on front page, editorial page and any other clear pages
There was more, much more. The impact, direct and
indirect, on the newsroom is obvious.
"Futurist" J. Christopher Burns, vice-president of
planning for The
Post, sees some major changes coming. An American
publishers' magazine, presstime (yes, lower
case), quotes him as
predicting that within 20 years the Post will have shrunk to 48 pages,
while doubling in price. At the same time, the newshole will have
increased as a percentage
from 35 per cent to 50 per cent, and the paper
will become the carrier for perhaps a dozen inserted publications with
a week's shelf-life.
If the price of newsprint doesn't clobber the
press, the price of
energy—particularly gas for distribution—may do so,
failing that, sheer information overload:
"We may have to begin to be more respectful of the
finite limits on our reader's ability to absorb so much news," says
It has been estimated that the average paper only
publishes 10 per cent of the material available to it, and the average reader only looks at 10 per
cent of that. For how long can a 99 per cent wastage be tolerated?
One solution is the customized paper. In a sense
this is already
happening as papers dig deeply into demographics and psychographics
and try to "target" sections, magazines or whole editions to specific
The blue-sky forecasters see the day when every
paper on one street may
be different, but that's a long way off and still strictly theoretical.
The probable technology would involve "ink jet" printing, where a
computer controls the press, "spitting" ink to make images, instantly
changeable, copy to copy. But Graeme Minto, probably Britain's top
expert on this process, told me it's "most unlikely" ever to be applied
to newspaper production.
How about home printing, with a little black box
spitting out the pages?
The Japanese have been experimenting with it for
years, but for several
reasons it still doesn't seem to be commercially practical.
Another alternative is a.printer hooked to a
videotex TV terminal. This way, the user calls up the pages he's
interested in (say CFL results) and presses the PRINT button.
Manufacturers such as Siemens in Germany already have printers on the
market that can reproduce images shown on a videotex
screen—Including graphics and original colors.
These home printers may well be widespread when
videotex and home
computer terminals catch on. At that point, the journalists working for
videotex newsrooms will have, to be even more conscious of graphics and
color, almost akin to a magazine art editor.
What does all this mean to the average reporter?
Perhaps a softening of the lines between print and
journalism, with much cross ownership (papers running videotex
services, for instance) and cross-referencing (so a videotex list of
sports results might end with "For the full story, see the Morning
Blat, page 19.") and perhaps more lateral movement of
one medium to another.
Perhaps, too, there will be increased use of
letting some journalists write for a much wider geographical audience,
while increased occurrence of demographic editions will call for some
writers to cater to highly-defined audiences.
Perhaps papers will shrink in size, but will
become carriers for
myriads of other publications (for instance, the Louisville, Ky.,
dailies deliver four different editions of Time magazine).
Perhaps—given neat little portable VDTs
which can access the
office computer from anywhere by radio-phone—reporters will
last have much more freedom of movement, access to resources, and
And what about that job as editor of a daily
newspaper on an oil
A decade ago the London Daily Telegdph
proved it was possible to
produce a remote edition every day on board the Queen Elizabeth 2
liner, anywhere in the world. Even with the primitive technology then
people told me—it was proved that
a remote paper was totally possible, on tankers, oil rigs or DEW-line
bases using the small, cheap litho presses now available. Such
technology could—surely—be applied in many
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