2/2 A day in the birth of a newspaper

Hopefully, your imagination borders were broad enough to visualise a news[paper] life cycle unlike me… until recently when the Wits Vuvuzela 2022 team went on a field trip to the Caxton printing factory.

This followed the tour at The Citizen just opposite the factory where I witnessed desks that were established for the sole purpose of online production and presence in one of the few newsrooms that remained headstrong in giving people the pleasure of reading an actual paper. For the first time, I smelled the paper in its various production stages and saw the ink that goes onto it before it does. Here’s a slight shocker: underneath all those varied coloured images on a newspaper, there are only 4 coloured inks; cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Yes! It takes only 4 fundamental colours mixed adequately and in that order, to create all the colours you’ve ever seen on newspaper copies. It took me seeing it lasered on aluminium plates in a Computer-to-Plate machine, to believe it, even though I battled with my sight in the sensitively-lit room. Guided by a digital layout of the newspaper, water attracts non-image areas while ink attracts image areas during this process. Given that this is a lengthy and complex process, I’m dubbing it the 9-months pregnancy journey with all the trimester stages and the vomiting, bloatedness, weight gain and mood swings. In this process, these are the ink smudges and non-alignment of inked plates on marked crosses. The pre-press room isn’t even where it all gets crazy and tumultuous.

It is in the press room where you raise this new-born newspaper by exercising a parenting style, putting it against the ideal digital copy to see if it’s what you were baking for 9 whole months. If not, you consciously adjust the colours and ensure that the water and ink are balanced out perfectly in the registration process. Some tough love during the upbringing is the tension that’s needed to allow perfect ink placement from the plates to the blankets and eventually paper. Just as 250 more newspaper copies than ordered are produced for contingency purposes, it is at this stage that you decide whether or not you want to conceive more kids to get the heir you’ve always wanted – who might probably only come after 6 daughters.

You then get the stacking room that resembles a disbursement warehouse floor where the final versions of various daily and community newspapers are put together with advertisers’ inserts for deliveries. At this point, your not-so-little-baby-anymore is 18 years old and you’ve prepared them well enough for the cruel jungle that is the world. They now have to pursue a life outside the nest and hope people take a chance at buying them so they are stored in a house as safe as my grandmother used to, instead of ending up at a dumping site disjointed to wrap a used diaper or wipe faeces from one’s behind. Or better yet, wrap the delicious fatcakes dripping oil from the township corner with questionable hygiene.

As a parent, wouldn’t you want all this hard work to be recognised and admired? Well, the world is too fast-paced to go out of its way to applaud you with sales for raising even the most amazing front page.

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