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We innovate

Oct 9, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

That's been the history of newspaper publishing, and don't forget it

A hot word these days on the lecture and banquet circuit is "innovation." This is a word exciting enough to appeal to almost anyone, and vague enough to apply to almost anything.

A recent conference in Riverton featured an evening of speeches on "innovation." It's doubtful that anyone representing a daily newspaper would ever be asked to participate in such an event. We are too boring, too old school, too yesterday, at least in the eyes of the "innovators" who fill the programs of such conferences.

This absolutely is not a sour-grapes message. Truly, it isn't. We are not clamoring for invitations to speak at conferences. We have daily exposure to a mass audience through our product, and do not lack the opportunity to present any message to the public any time we want to.

But this week, which is designated as National Newspaper Week, we got to thinking about innovation in our newspaper office.

There has been a lot of it.

The science of putting ink on paper quickly, consistently, and in large volume, is a technology. In fact, it is one of the great technological achievements in human history. Many spectacularly innovative technological advances have been developed in and for the process of printing. It has been a steady progression of innovation for more than 400 years, and it continues today.

When our newspaper began publishing in 1949 as The Riverton Times, it took two people to operate a sheet-fed press about the size of an average office desk with another stacked on top of that.

One person would feed the single 2-by-3-foot sheets of paper by hand into the press, passing each sheet over -- incredibly -- an open flame that would cause the static electricity buildup from the friction of the paper to be discharged in a large spark before the paper entered the actual printing mechanism. Another person would have to receive the printed sheet as it came out, stacking it neatly on the previous pages so that later they could be folded by hand.

The modern printing press, such as the one in our shop, can print 48 pages at one time, at a speed of 18,000 copies per hour (there are faster ones, too), with colored ink on many of those pages, and the papers delivered out of the other end by conveyor belt, neatly assembled and folded.

And it still only takes two people to run it.

That's innovation.

Ten years ago, if we had a stack of six different advertising inserts that needed to go into the paper, we would line up an army of personnel with a pole of papers on one side and a pile of inserts on the other and do it by hand -- and then do it again and again and again. Nowadays, an inserting machine can put three inserts into one about as quickly as you could count them. The army of personnel has been put to other uses, and inserts get done much more quickly and accurately.

That's innovation.

Little more than a year ago we would build a newspaper page on a computer screen, print it out in three sections on a laser printer, trim the edges with a paper cutter, apply a coating of wax to the back of the paper, paste the three sections on a big grid sheet, paste up the photographs and the advertisements, send it to a darkroom where a huge photograph of it would be taken, process that photograph into a film negative, create a photographic print from the negative on a piece of metal, and load that press plate onto the press.

Today, we build the page on the computer, press the enter key, and the metal press plate is produced. Not only does it save hours of time, but the pages look better when printed.

That's innovation. There's that word again.

In the practical world, a world of people and work and tasks and equipment and deadlines, real innovation takes place all the time, beginning with a conversation between two co-workers and ending with a fabulous new piece of equipment, a slick new procedure, or simply a better way to get a small task done sooner.

Heaven knows our business is not perfect. These days, it's popular to say that our entire industry concept is no good anymore, either. We dispute that, of course, and if you're reading these words, then you dispute it as well through your participation.

Through nearly half a millennium of enterprise in newspaper publishing, a lot of challenges have arisen, both opportunity and obstacle. Our presence here today, as one of the American newspapers read by 144 million citizens each week, demonstrates our industry's ability to rise to uncountable occasions and clear incalculable hurtles to keep doing what we do.

This is our industry's history. This is our company's history.

We innovate. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

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MAIL SUBSCRIBERS: Tuesday's edition of The Ranger was delivered to the Riverton post office by 3:30 p.m., in time to meet the postal deadline for next-day mail delivery.

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