First edition of the Federal Way Mirror.

First edition of the Federal Way Mirror.

Newspapers then and now: Odyssey of a production guru | Mirror’s 20th anniversary

I’ve been in this business for just about 30 years, 20 of which have been with the Mirror.

  • Sunday, February 4, 2018 8:00am
  • Opinion

By Marcie Shannon, Mirror creative artist

OK, so I’m not a guru, but that’s what they like to call me around here.

They also call me a magician. But, just between you and me, it’s all about technology. The computer can do amazing and magical things.

I would know. I’ve been in this business for just about 30 years, 20 of which have been with the Mirror.

I was hired in 1998 to act as Assistant Production Manager for the production of four of Sound Publishing’s South Sound community newspapers in addition to assisting with the startup of Sound’s newest addition to the family – the Federal Way Mirror. The initial production of the paper was a huge undertaking with a tremendous amount of pressure, but the entire staff worked hard and made it happen.

There was a strong sense of ownership and satisfaction with the components each person contributed. Numerous past employees – with whom I still have relationships – are proud of the part they played in making the Mirror successful through the years. I haven’t always been with the Mirror exclusively, but routinely provided production support and design assistance for the first few months.

By 2001, two of the four South Sound papers I was working on closed and I was transferred to the Mirror full time to relieve the existing production crew. I have been here ever since. Throughout my tenure here at the Mirror, I have seen many changes. The improvements in technology have been the most astounding.

In 1998, we were on the cusp of fully delving into the desktop publishing era, but there were still many labor intensive days and nights. At the beginning of my career we would put the newspaper together with paper and wax, literally. This process was called paste-up.

Production staff would print out long strips of paper with editorial copy printed on it, and run it through the “waxer,” a machine with rollers that coated one side of the “galley” in hot wax. Then using an X-acto knife, staff would cut those strips out in “columns” and paste them down onto huge grid sheets (paste-up boards) thus becoming the page proof. This was also the process for ads: we’d typeset the copy, then the art, photos, and content would all be pasted onto a grid sheet in whatever size of ad purchased. The photos and/or art for the ad would be submitted to the camera department for reproduction of a “Velox.”

Later in the day, camera department would present a halftone or velox to be waxed down within the borders of the ad. This border was also labor intensive, as it was rolls of very thin, black tape that would be cut to form the ad box. If the ad had color, we’d do an “overlay” using an acetate sheet and color with markers those areas in need of color, then we’d submit a proof. The customer could then flip through those color overlays to determine exact placement of the color on their logo or art.

When color and ad were approved, we’d meticulously mask out the color “plates” using a product called amberlith (or rubylith) masking film. But back in that day color was a luxurious expense for most advertisers due to its labor intensiveness and press ability. At the end of the day in the composing department, we’d put away our X-acto knives, hang up the pica poles, scrape the wax from the light tables, and turn off the waxer. This is all in stark contrast to what happens today: Photoshop this, pdf that, click “File,” “Print” then WHOOSH! It “magically” ends up on 30,000 doorsteps the very next day.

I’ve pretty much grown up with this newspaper. I was only in my early 30s when I started, and now in my 50s looking back at the changes in technology, I am amazed. Dailies printing tens of thousands of newspapers with sections “A” through “J” have flourished, then fallen. But our community paper continues to go strong and thrive in the face of the internet, social media and “tweeting” news.

The “ink-printed” copy of anything has diminished significantly – but our community paper keeps going strong. Working at a small community newspaper takes a certain je ne sais quoi in never knowing if the company’s next move will be successful, while always being aware we are teetering between the red and the black. The Mirror has been my lifeblood, my family, my day-to-day sustenance.

But this paper would not have seen successful had it not been for the community support we continue to experience and the amazing, talented employees who have graced our paper’s history. Numerous people who have given their blood, sweat and tears. Those who have given a good go at building this paper and community into what could have been considered a transient town 20 years ago – they helped formulate and have been part of turning the city into the community that it has always strived to be.

The majority of the people who have worked here, whether it be for a couple months or many years, have all contributed to the success of this paper. And successful it has been – from just starting out in 1998 to finding our footing in a technological world that would just as soon eat us up and spit us out. I am proud to be a part of the Mirror.

It’s hard, almost overwhelming, to recall how much has changed over the years. Memories are flashing to the forefront of my brain of the immense amount of work that is and has been put into this paper. Whether through the magic of technology or Marcie the Magician, this production guru is grateful for our success over the last 20 years.

We are here. We are strong. We are at your door and will be for the next 20 years and beyond.

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