The Argonaut that you are holding in your hands (or reading on your monitor) is the 1,891st issue of this newspaper, which was founded by the late Dave Johnson on November 25th, 1971.
I began my newspaper career at The Argonaut eight years later, so I missed the excitement of being a part of a brand-new publication. By the time I arrived, a lot of the kinks had been worked out. With my background in art and retail, I must have seemed a good choice for the job of “production artist” which consisted mainly of being able to stick little pieces of paper to cardboard. It was tedious, but I loved it.
I had never touched a computer in my life; but that was okay because, in 1979, the only employee at The Argonaut who used a computer was the business manager. This “computer” communicated with its operator by spitting out a continuous flow of green and white striped paper, perforated at the edges. Pretty dull stuff.
Over the years, the technology in all of our departments has changed — sometimes gradually, sometimes in huge stressful leaps. Looking back, it’s difficult to remember exactly what we did or how we did it in any particular year. Old equipment has been replaced, old software discarded. Much of the story would be lost if it were not for a copy of The Argonaut saved from November 1984.
It was our 13th anniversary that year. On the front cover it says, “The making of your newspaper, an inside look at the production of The Argonaut.” The articles written for that paper form a snapshot of the technology as it was in 1984 — a sort of time capsule just waiting to be opened and shared with our readers. Excerpts from that issue appear in italics throughout this article.
In that 13th anniversary issue Johnson said, “I look back at those early newspapers in the fall of 1971 and cringe. We were limited in those days by the number of type styles we had. Too often a lot of the copy was pasted in crooked and the borders on the ads were less than professional. We have come a long way in improving the look of our paper since November 1971.”
In a similar way, I look back from 2006 to The Argonaut of 1984 and marvel at the additional advances we have made.
Our present day readers would immediately notice our lack of color photographs in 1984. We now typically have 12 to 20 pages of color per issue. We had no color photos at all in that anniversary issue, or any other issue that year.
Because all of our photos were reproduced in black and white in the paper, there was no need to buy color film. Our photographers shot all their pictures in black and white.
The 13th anniversary issue goes on to describe our photographic processes:
“We welcome local photographs, even Polaroids in focus with good color contrast that can be reduced to black and white printing. The Argonaut has a complete photographic laboratory for developing film and making prints and photographic enlargements and reductions.”
Today the film and chemicals are long gone. We have switched to digital photography and the popular software Photoshop. Photoshop allows us to process photos taken with our digital cameras — cropping, sizing and color-correcting as needed. Freed from concerns about the cost of the film, our photographer can take more pictures, resulting in better-quality photos for our paper.
We still welcome photographs of local interest, but are more likely to receive them in an e-mail or on a CD.
The 1984 issue goes on to say, “Each day The Argonaut receives a duffel bag full of mail, mostly press releases.”
It required a duffel bag back then because the postal system was pretty much the only way for anyone to send material to us. Our office did not yet have a fax machine, and probably most of our readers and advertisers didn’t either. Today we still receive mail, but it would take a week’s mail to fill a duffel bag. Most press releases arrive in e-mail or by fax.
In 1984, before the need for all those extra phone lines to accommodate fax machines and personal computers, there were fewer area codes. Marina del Rey and the entire Westside had the same area code as downtown Los Angeles, 213. In fact, on page two, we did not even think it necessary to mention an area code with our phone number.
The 1984 issue continues:
“For composing, editing and typesetting stories, news department members each use a video display terminal connected to a central computer. The computer system — installed in August of 1982 — streamlines the editorial process and allows a better-quality product than the electric typewriters and non-centralized typesetting equipment used in earlier years.
“A few strokes of a keyboard sends the news copy to a computerized typesetter in an adjacent room, where the article is printed by computer onto long strips of special photographic paper that is developed and processed much like a black-and-white photograph. Newspaper people call these long strips of justified copy ‘galleys.’
“These ‘galleys’ of ‘camera-ready copy’ are then trimmed and waxed on one side and pasted onto layout boards that are later photographed to make printing plates that are transferred onto large offset presses that produce the newspaper.”
Today we can assemble the entire paper on our computer screens. The finished pages are saved as “PDFs” (PDF stands for portable document format) and put onto a CD to deliver to our printer, O’Neil Data Systems, conveniently located across the street. But even if our printer were located miles away, it would be easy to send our files via e-mail. We no longer rush to finish in order to avoid the drive described below:
“Between noon and about 3 p.m. each Wednesday the editorial, classified and display advertising departments complete their paste-up of type, photos and ads on paste-up boards — ready for delivery to a printer in Santa Fe Springs, some 35 miles east of Marina del Rey.
“On a good week, we beat our 3 p.m. Wednesday deadline, and have the paper on its way to the printer before the freeway traffic grinds to a halt.”
In January 1984, a Superbowl commercial had featured a female runner throwing a sledgehammer at a movie watched by an audience of stone-faced workers. This was Apple introducing us to its new Macintosh computer.
By 1985, The Argonaut’s advertising production department would have three of those “Macs,” revolutionizing the way we created ads. With their amazing nine-inch-diagonal black-and-white monitors and “one full megabyte of RAM,” we were cutting edge! We had taken the first of many steps toward freeing ourselves from paste-up.
As we celebrate The Argonaut’s 35th anniversary, I find it interesting to look back at how the technology has changed. No other factor has had such a profound effect on how we do our work. The appearance of the final product has a more professional look than it did in 1984. In some ways the work is easier, in others more difficult, requiring more expertise than ever before. But the reason we do it has not changed.
Johnson began this paper 35 years ago with the simple goal of being your best source of local news. With his passing in May of this year, that goal is entrusted now to us.
The excerpts throughout this article (in italics) are all taken from The Argonaut, November 29, 1984.
[Carol Hector is now the editor and publisher of The Argonaut.]