The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

February 11, 2012

That night silence came to the pressroom

By NEIL FRIEDER - nfeditor@suite224.net
Editor

— Its frequency was seven times a week for at least an hour each time.

It has a roar that can be seldom duplicated elsewhere.

The decibel levels are so high you easily could go deaf within a short period of time unless you had special protection on your ears.

 Even though it is not a gentle sound of a flowing stream or rainfall, to the people who heard it every night it was white noise... soothing white noise. A sound of security, a sound of comfort. Even when you were not there to see and hear it in action it still provided security and comfort.

That noise stopped — probably forever — as our 10-unit Goss Urbanite offset press printed its final newspaper early Friday morning.  From today forward the Star Beacon is being printed at the nearby Tribune-Chronicle of Warren.

Today there are still a lot of weepy eyes around the Star Beacon. Sometimes we feel so endeared to machines that we mourn for them like they are people. Then again, machines are extension of us.

Our presses are believed to be the oldest daily newspaper presses in Ohio. The first offset presses in the state were installed at the Geauga Times-Leader in 1966 by the Rowley family, who owned that newspaper and the Star Beacon at the time. Once the presses became operational in Geauga, the family set about installing presses in Ashtabula. They became operational in 1969, and they are believed to be the second such presses installed in the state.

 Forty-three years is a long time... a very long life for a newspaper press. In that 43-year span, the world has dramatically changed. Nowhere has it changed more than in technology.  

 In the newspaper business the one thing that goes on unchanged is change. The newspaper business is all about change, not only from the standpoint that news is something different each day, but how news is produced for the reader.

My friend Sam claims the first newspapers were printed on rocks and passed around. There is some truth to that. It is believed that in ancient Rome the government would produce bulletins by carving them on stones or metal, and putting them in public places.

 In the seventh century, the Chinese produced news sheets that were handwritten on silk and read by government officials to the public.

 Real newspapers — meaning those on paper — began to take shape in the 16th century with the emergence of presses.

 Early presses produced one sheet at a time. They eventually gave rise to presses that could print multi-pages with the eventual emergence of what would be the labor and time intensive letterhead presses. They did produce a lot of newspapers though.

My career in the newspaper business started in the waning days of the hot-lead/letterhead presses. Actually, the first newspaper I worked for was printed on an offset press similar to the one at the Star Beacon.

My first newspaper was the Point Pleasant Register in Point Pleasant, W.Va. It was sometime in the 1970s, when my publisher prophesied to me the day will come when newspapers will be delivered electronically. This vision came before personal computers were popular.

Probably then most people thought that day would not come soon.  But time  moves and it can move rapidly.

The personal computer and Internet have created a revolution that is bringing about massive changes in our world that have not been seen since the Industrial Revolution. We are at the very beginning of this new revolution.

What we are witnessing in the news world is growing numbers of people receiving their news via the Internet. Newspapers are adjusting to that.

 Newspapers such as the Star Beacon with its aging presses have been faced with having to make business decisions on whether to replace these presses or print elsewhere.

The presses that went operational at the Star Beacon in 1969 perhaps cost a million dollars. Today an offset press could cost 20 to 30 times that amount.

 I have not heard of any newspapers installing new presses today. It makes almost no sense to do so  as readers begin shifting from newsprint to screen for their news.

For now it makes more sense to outsource printing at a place that has more modern presses, such as at the Tribune-Chronicle, than it does to continue to make costly repairs or install new presses. The Star Beacon signed a seven-year contract with the Tribune-Chronicle to print our newspaper.

 While time and technology have taken us from rocks to screens, the Star Beacon will be providing print news for many years to come. Too many people still like having their news on paper.

Frieder is editor of the Star Beacon and can be reached at nfeditor@suite224.net.