Nikki Finke reports some changes for the Hollywood trades: Variety is going back behind a paywall online and THR (The Hollywood Reporter) is going online only. Information delivery evolves yet again.
This news unlocks some memories. Way back in the day, one of my first jobs was at The Hollywood Reporter — not, as some might guess, as a cub reporter but in the advertising department. My job consisted mainly — for the first few weeks, at least — of sending telexes and cutting people off on the phone, and it never really got any easier. The ad department was a madhouse, full of outsized personalities who labored under hellish daily deadlines. No one had a cubicle, it was all one giant room, and private moments usually turned into shouting matches as a spectator sport. From all this, I learned the fine points of not crying in front of your boss.
When I first started, THR was notable in that it owned its own printing press. Housed in a crazy quilt building that had once been a men’s haberdashery (and had the ornate dark woodwork to show it), the printing press was located in the back of the building, right next to the composition dept. where guys in jumpsuits cut film to lay out the paper. As I recall, it was a rotogravure press (although I may just remember it that way because I like the word rotogravure) and the quality was very good, if archaic even then.
The press room was an incredibly loud and stinky place. The guys who ran the presses were literally ink-stained and they rarely came out front, and when they did, they smelled of chemicals. (We were amazed when one of the women from the layout dept. married one of the pressmen; this was the first time I heard the phrase “There’s a lid for every pot” used in such a context.) Once in a while I would have to go back there to deliver late ad copy or something, and I’d track some of the smell back to my desk, or imagined it anyway. But it was still a kind of romantic notion that we were creating a newspaper from soup to nuts under one roof — from the reporters running out to screenings to those of us taking down the “For Your Consideration” ads, to composition to the press to the loading dock, where each day bundles of paper would be picked up for delivery, in the early hours, to land on some studio mogul’s desk each morning, along with Variety.
After Billboard bought the Reporter in 1988, the printing press was quickly sold and dismantled — there was no point to owning your press any more, with the costs of paper and printing so cheap at a big dedicated house. THR moved to a very rudimentary computer typesetting system called CTS that we all figured stood for “creates total shit” because it was a nightmare to deal with. The Reporter was never really cutting edge in technology.
The press room was converted to a lunch room, with a lone table and a tattered brown leather sofa. Most afternoons the music editor could be found fast asleep on this sofa, after another late night out at the Rainbow. (The Reporter art staff consisted mostly of people in bands, and it’s a miracle most of them even made it in to work — I know because I was usually there when they played.)
Although such knowledge is useless these days, working at the Reporter did give me a basic grounding in production that helped me navigate all kinds of turmoil during my print days. I learned a lot about repro and what could go wrong, and dealing with all kinds of production people and learning their concerns helped me solve problems when they arose. I learned a lot about four- and five-color printing, live areas, bleeds, specing ads from scratch and PMS colors, nitty gritty shit that’s all taken care of by pressing the return key these days. I also learned the flux, exhaustion and exhilaration of the daily news cycle, something that I’ve carried right through to blogging.
Now, I know HTML. And so does THR.