A lot has changed. A lot hasn't.
Last week I celebrated my 20th anniversary with NAPL, two decades marked by the opportunity to work with terrific colleagues on behalf of our wonderful members. And an opportunity to live through a time of tremendous change in our industry.
Actually, the last 20 years were not the only time I’ve lived through considerable changes in printing. I’d rather not divulge my age, but I will admit that I began my career as a Society Department writer for New Jersey’s then largest (now long-dead) daily newspaper, where I worked in a huge composing room, amid the deafening clatter of a dozen or more linotype machines, directing the insertion of metal column rules and leading lines (that were real lead), and watching printers snip the tails off commas to end sentences I had edited on the fly to fit the space available just minutes before the chase had to be locked and the page rolled away for stereotyping.
Needless to say, things are different now. Instead of writing this on a manual typewriter and sending sheets of individual paragraphs on a conveyor belt up to the linotype operators, I’m writing it on a computer and putting it into a program that will format it, add an illustration found via an Internet search, and then post it to our website. It’s a lot easier and less time-consuming, but a far more solitary endeavor.
I’ve experienced working with hot type and “cold type” and file transmission via phone line modem to a type house 30 miles away―and driving those 30 miles and back for an envelope of final galleys to complete layouts on deadline.
I’ve lived through the years of cutting and pasting (literally), watching talented graphic designers expertly slice pristine sheets of type with X-Acto blades, coat them with hot wax, and then position them perfectly onto Bainbridge Boards. And, yes, watching those designers skillfully snip the tails off 10-point Helvetica Light commas to end sentences I had edited to fit minutes before the boards had to be completed.
I’ve seen stacks of 30+ tissue-covered two-page “mechanicals” bundled up and rushed out via courier to make a late-night flight to a printing plant across the country. Now I hit a key to upload a file and wait at my desk to get a proof returned, then do my checking and approving on screen, absent the delivery or CSR drop-off of bluelines, contract proofs, or contact prints.
A lot has changed. But, then, a lot hasn’t.
Editors still must come up with ideas, develop content, and make it accurate, readable, and right for its format. Though they work with graphics programs and electronic art, avoiding the dangers of sliced fingers and waxer burns, talented designers (and editors who double as “desktop” designers) must still fashion attractive layouts and create pages that are eye-catching and interesting and suitable to their content and audience.
And printers must still bail out those editors and designers by turning our ideas and concepts into products we can be proud of, doing it on deadline―usually a deadline that we’ve stretched as far as possible, and occasionally beyond―and completing the job with the calm professionalism and incredible craftsmanship that is an inherent part of their trade.
And however it was created, whatever tools or technologies were used, seeing it (and touching it) in print always is―and always has been―the best part of any editor’s or designer’s job, including mine.