Monday, May 10, 2021
May 10, 2021

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From the Newsroom: What’s black and white and read all over?

By , Columbian Editor
Published:

BREAKING NEWS: After I wrote this column for the Friday, Feb. 5 edition, our obliging and intrepid supplier called our production director to say they figured out a way to fill our press plate order much sooner than they had thought they could. Since we won’t need to conserve press plates after all, full color will resume Saturday. Thanks for bearing with us! — Craig

P.S. For the historical record, here is the original column:

Have you noticed that the comics and some other pages of The Columbian are now appearing in glorious black and white?

What in world has happened? Are we trying to give readers a taste of nostalgia by adopting a retro look? Is part of our press broken? Are we trying to save money?

No, we are temporarily trying to conserve on press plates until we can obtain a bigger supply of them.

First, a bit of background. For more than 50 years, The Columbian has been printed at 701 W. Eighth St. on a large Goss Metro offset press that has been our workhorse. We’ve kept it modernized and in excellent working condition, and added enough color to it over the years that we can print every page of our normal-sized paper in full color.

It requires four colors of ink to print a full-color page: cyan (sort of blueish); magenta (reddish); yellow; and black. Each of those four colors requires its own plate. The thin metal plates are recyclable, but they are not reusable.

When the press is running, the newsprint rolls through four different press units, one devoted to each color. The skill of our press crew keeps all of those units in perfect adjustment so the finished pictures look sharp and, as a printer would say, in register. I wish we offered public tours, as this is all very interesting to watch.

The bottom line is, if you print the comics in black, rather than in cyan, magenta, yellow and black, you can save three plates. The same holds true for all the other pages.

We normally stock an ample supply of plates, even enough to yell “Stop the presses; we’re remaking the page!” once in awhile. But our press crew is so skillful and efficient that we recently agreed to start taking on additional print jobs for another newspaper company.

We ordered more press plates as soon as we got the contract in place, but it’s going to take a few weeks before our supplier can deliver. So to keep from running out of plates, we’ve decided to conserve by reducing color.

We expect to have a full supply of plates by around the first of April, according to our production department.

By the way, the comics and other features are still in full color in our e-edition. You don’t use any press plates when you’re creating a digital publication! Check it out at epaper.columbian.com. Access is included as part of your home delivery subscription.

Steps to production

Although I try to write about newsroom happenings, it may be worth a little description of what happens when a page leaves the newsroom. The digital files go to our prepress department, where they are married with the parts of the newspaper that the newsroom doesn’t paginate, such as advertisements, comics and puzzles.

A computer then splits the finished page into each of the four ink colors, and sends the information directly to the plate-making machine. Years ago, when I was new to the business, there was an intermediate step where a camera made full-size photo negatives of each color of each page, but this is now passe.

The flexible press plates are covered with a special photo-reactive substance, akin to photographic film. In fact, the prepress folks work under special darkroom-type lights so as not to fog the plates. The plate-making machine uses a bright laser to photographically etch the plates in the appropriate spots. Finally, it crimps the ends so they can be hooked onto the press.

The press operators take the finished plates and clamp them into position on large drums on each of the various press units. Remember, there is a plate and a press unit for each color. I don’t know how they keep it all straight. I’d guess that if they put the magenta plate into the cyan press unit, it would make for some really strange-looking pictures!

For now, the odds of that mistake happening are reduced, since some pages will have only one color. But bear with us, we’ll be back to our regular colorful appearance before too long.

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