Tonight, a printing press will die. The ink will coagulate in the wells, the paper will rend to shreds, and the gears will scrape to a noisy halt. And if not tonight, soon enough.
As part of a newspaper chain, I’ve seen the life cycle of a printing press in real-time. GateHouse Media has chosen to consolidate printing operations in the central Illinois region to our press right here in Peoria. My mouth is shut on whether this is good or bad, but it has meant change. The Galesburg Register-Mail shuttered their press in 2010, and now the State Journal-Register spit out their last edition in 2011. And in the chaos of reorganization, Galesburg began printing again the same day that Springfield went silent. It’s a tongue-twister.
Amid all this, the Journal Star reduced page size from 50 inches to 44 inches. I did a quick photo project on the web-width reduction. Go look. It gave me a good excuse to climb around on the machinery, to scale the 4-story towers and listen the thrum of the beast scale rapidly to 70,000 copies an hour. The German-built MAN Roland Geoman 70 offset press is state-of-the-art, completed in 2004 at a cost of millions of dollars. It’s a beauty, from the giant rollers spinning paper at her ankles to the folder and former under her skirt.
There are foreign, ragged pieces of machinery sitting around the Journal Star complex. These are dismembered body parts, pieces and chunks of the Springfield press and mailroom machinery. They’re in various stages of being installed in Peoria; “we can rebuild him!” Frankly, it’s creepy.
I hate seeing journalism tied to the printing press; in fact, the day that we no longer need to spend large amounts of money on heavy machinery is the day that journalism can start healing. But that primitive machine, rife with danger, smelling of sticky ink… wowee zowee!
Photos of dead presses: