Image: “Just a few feet from the door, I am able to watch the final work on the Page One lockup”.
This account of the frenetic activity in the comp room prior to publication of the New York Times (The Old Grey Lady) was written by a well meaning journalist back in the glory days of hot metal newspaper publishing.
Nearby, ink-stained proofreaders sweat under the lights, trying to catch errors.
It is hard to imagine how they concentrate in all this noise and activity — a din of clattering typesetters, the swirls of rushing people, mallets banging on steel frames.
It is a muscular place, governed by strange customs and alien terms, and I try not to stray far from the elevator.
All the elements of the front page — the type for articles and headlines, the photo-engraved picture cuts, the weather and edition information that flank The New York Times logo at the top — are set into a steel frame, called a chase, atop a waist-high table known as the stone.
Dave Lidman, a makeup editor with a kindly face, motions me over and takes some of the mystery out of the operation.
He checks the whole page, reading type that is upside down and backward. If he spots an error, he does not touch the type.
It’s against the union rules for an editor to handle type, he explains, so he must ask a printer to make fixes.
When Dave is satisfied, the frame is tightened with blocks of wood and screws. Mallet blows are struck to ensure that the type is level and nothing is loose.
Then, Dave explains, the locked page is wheeled to a matrix operation, where a cardboard-like mat is pressed down on the locked-up type with enormous force — 2,100 pounds per square inch — under a cylindrical roller.
The mat, a positive image of the page, is dropped down a chute to the stereotype room five floors below.
There, the mat is curved into a half-barrel shape and molten lead is sprayed against it.
The resulting metal plate is an exact replica — in negative again — of the page set in type in the composing room.
The plate, when cooled in a bath of water, is fitted onto a cylinder of the press. Paper rolling over the inked plates will pick up the positive image.
When all is ready, the pressmen stand back, a bell rings, a button is pushed and the gargantuan presses, fed by great rolls of newsprint and tons of ink, begin to roll.
The noise is deafening.
Indeed, many pressmen are congenitally deaf. Soon the paper rolls are speeding at 1,200 feet a minute, and the presses are churning out 400,000 newspapers an hour.
It is a two-part paper, averaging 60 pages on weekdays and a whopping 436 pages on Sundays.