Home Culture History A little more print goes away — UPDATED

A little more print goes away — UPDATED


UPDATE: At The Wrap, a THR insider  disputes the THR online only story, although, saying they’ll stick around through the lucrative Awards season isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for the future of the print edition.

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.


  1. In my first internship, I had to glue stories to page boards, then take those to the press (90 minutes away), and I always would watch the press at work, rumbling along. Not quite like my uncle’s stories of lead burns from the days of hot type.

  2. You bring back some great memories, Heidi. I started out at the very tail end of the “ink-stained wretch” days with its waxy layout pages, x-acto bladed border tape, clunky photostat cameras, and all of its accompanying hustle and bustle. I soon moved into the “newborn” desktop publishing era (late 80’s), but not before getting at least a taste of a vanishing era.

    I still love the smell of ink when I visit printing presses for my job.

  3. “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 my print days.”

    Although most of that knowledge IS useless today, I’m always amused by how aspects of it still live on in various electronic applications. For example, the term “leading” is still applied to the spaces between lines of type, and little x-acto blade icons symbolize cutting when very few people even remember (or can even identify) the once-ubiquitous cutting tool. I often wonder what young artists-in-training think about various software tool symbols that have no context in the modern print design world (such as the archaic “dodge and burn” tools in Photoshop).

  4. Ah… as a library student, I took a non-adhesive book binding class at the Fine Arts Press of the University of Nebraska at Omaha. (Hand-sewn bindings.) In the classroom were also three flatbed presses, and an archaic monstrosity we called a “tortoise shell press” which was never used.

    Later, I was invited to participate in a print portfolio, and in one Oreos-and-Mountain-Dew fueled Spring Break, learned to typeset movable type (Bembo). I still kern advertising when bored on the subway, noting mistakes others do not notice.

    I even keep an old 1980s transfer-lettering catalog next to my dictionary. All sorts of great typefaces (as well as screens, patterns, and graphical elements)!

    For those who would like to learn more, I recommend:
    Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students by Ellen Lupton (9781568984483)

    Non-Adhesive Binding: Books Without Paste or Glue (series) by Keith A. Smith (http://www.keithsmithbooks.com/)

  5. I too am a veteran of the days of rendering presentation layouts with markers. Spec’ing headline and body type by character count. Letraset headlines. Doing copy edits by cutting individual letters from old galleys and waxing them to make new words. Using a ruling pen. Having the stat camera glass shatter when you crank the bellows too low, and doing “mechanicals” with acetate overlays and rubylith.

  6. This is sad, if likely inevitable, news. I worked part time on the THR copy desk for about six months just as they were getting comfortable with computers. It was a fun and exciting place.

    That was really my only newspaper experience, though, as I’ve more often been on the book side of publishing. Today I like to regale my coworkers with grand tales of scroll-like galleys cut so they could be Xeroxed, boards that actually had type pasted on them, and correction fees charged by the line if anything needed to be corrected (and at that point you only made the corrections that were absolutely necessary). They smile politely but blankly, wondering what the old guy is going on about.


    Also, what was that can of sticky spray-on stuff that replaced the waxer called? I called it the mutant maker because it was so toxic that pregnant woman weren’t allowed to use it.

  8. Spray glue maybe. Sprayed in a spray booth. Or on the surface of anything else that was around. We hated it, because it flew around the air and landed in our eyelashes and on my left and right contact lens.
    As a blast from the spray filled past, I used some of that 3M stuff just today, when 2009’s “adhesive sticky rub down dots” solution wasn’t doing the trick to attach a laser output onto a presentation board.

  9. Specifically 3M’s “Spray Mount”…or, if you REALLY wanted to tack it down, 3M’s “Super Spray 77”.

    I still remember it coating the hair on my forearms and, most likely, a good portion of my lungs.

    Remember kids: GRAPHIC DESIGN IS DANGEROUS! (spray mount, x-acto blades, pointy drafting triangles, white-hot waxers….BRRRR!)

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