Before the Presses Quit Turning

When I was a kid growing up in Cape, it wasn’t uncommon for folks to gather on the sidewalk on the east side of The Southeast Missourian to watch the press in operation. Mural on Southeast MissourianThere is something magical about The Big Iron rumbling away, pulling paper off huge rolls that weigh almost as much as a VW and spitting out the news at the other end. Those were kinder, gentler times; the huge window was bricked up when other cities were hit with riots and violent demonstrations in the 60s and 70s. For all it’s size and power, a printing press is a delicate machine that easily could be destroyed.

Newspapering was a sacred calling

Those of us who worked in the business in that era felt that we were answering a sacred call. Sounds corny, but I always felt like I was doing more than just a job for a paycheck.

The Three Counts

John Mueller, Rick Meinz and I had a brush with sacred callings, as this picture will attest. Well, actually, we were just dressed up for a play at Trinity Lutheran Church, but we should get some kind of credit for that. My biggest disappointment was that I couldn’t use one of my best lines, “We’re the Three Counts: Count de Bills, Count de Checks and Count de Change.” It’s a good thing the church had lightning rods.

1965 John Mueller, Rick Meinz, Ken Steinhoff in church playGetting back to presses

Press operator checks paper fresh off the pressOne of the main reasons I ended up in West Palm Beach, FL, working for The Palm Beach Post was that I had been looking for the best photo papers in the country in the late 60s and early 70s. I subscribed to about a dozen papers and gradually let all the subscriptions lapse except The Post. It was doing the best day-to-day photo coverage with the best reproduction of any paper I had seen.

All good things have to end

Palm Beach Post RIP 12-20-08 on press room bulletin boardBy 2008, the economy in South Florida was in the toilet. Newspapers were sucking air as the real estate and classified advertising dried up. Big cuts were in the wind.

In August 2008, about 300 employees, including me, were offered buyout packages. At the end of the year, the biggest shoe dropped: The Post, which had a national reputation for fine press work, was going to outsource its printing to our biggest competitor in Ft. Lauderdale. Other papers would take over most of our distribution.

That subtracted about another 300 employees. In 18 months, the paper had cut nearly half of the original 1,400 workers.

I wanted to feel the magic

Even though I was no longer part of the paper, I wanted to feel the magic of a working press room one more time. I convinced some former coworkers to look the other way while I prowled around the production department two of the last weekends before the presses would be stilled forever.

These folks had made me look good in print for almost three decades. I’ve alway thought it was important for a worker to have a photo of themselves on the job to hand down to their kids and grandkids, so I burned CDs of the pictures for them to take home.

Go here to see the photographs. I really like some of them.

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