“How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon.” - Dr. Seuss
Everyone knows that print newspapers are on the decline, hastened precipitously by the Internet, cable news, and that drunk at the end of the bar who tells great stories. Everyone knows this, except my editor, who quixotically believes print newspapers are the wave of the future (and God bless him for it). “They are a wave,” I tell him, “but it’s one of those giant waves that kills everybody.” In any case, since I couldn’t find anything else to write about this week, I thought I’d tell you how The Capitol Hill Times is made.
The early gestation of the newspaper begins at our editorial meeting. My editor leads off the gatherings with a rousing team-building speech, which usually climaxes with, “You supply the pictures, and I’ll supply the war.” After he selects the employee of the week (one of these days!), we go around the table and pitch ideas.
I never have any, so I often run into the restroom and stare in the mirror nervously like Pacino before he killed Sollozzo and McCluskey in “The Godfather.” All the other writers pitch important pieces of investigative journalism, and when it finally comes to me, I say something like, “Well, it’s been pretty hot lately, I could write about that.” Everyone stares. When I get home, I sit in the shower and cry.
The next few days are spent doing research in the field. You know what that means? Montage!
Chasing leads…taking pictures…making calls…chasing leads taking pictures… interviewing sources…taking notes…“What time is he available?”…a day calendar flipping…running up stairs…hitting a punching bag…making calls…”I’ll come back then”…knocking on doors…running down stairs…ripping pages…taking pictures…hanging up a phone. End of montage!
While everyone else is doing these things, I’m usually lying in bed and clipping my toenails. Hey, those nails need to be cut.
Once the articles have been turned in, they go through our famously rigorous editing process. First the article goes to an editor, who has the writer make revisions. Then it goes to a second editor, and the writer revises it again. Then it goes to a fact-check, where every date, every title, every place or assertion is checked and verified. Then it goes to lawyers, who look for any red flags and apply their own burden of proof. “But Chason,” you’re probably saying, “you just lifted this entire paragraph from the editing scene in “Shattered Glass,” starring Hayden Christensen. Yes, yes I did. What are you, a cop?
After we’ve dotted every T and crossed every I (that ain’t right!), we take the articles to a focus group. Our editor reads each piece to a room full of 8 year olds, who turn a knob to left if they like a sentence and to the right if they don’t. When the kids are finished crying and sign Non-Disclosure Agreements, we go over the results. “Okay, the little bastards didn’t like any of the articles about community issues, but they did like the one about chocolate. They also want fewer independent clauses.” We make the appropriate changes.
Now that all the copy is set, we have to arrange it, because readers tend to prefer words in a linear, organized presentation (such demands). You can’t just stack the articles on top of each other, for instance, and when a piece says it continues on A5, it really has to continue on A5. This is why we have a graphic designer. I haven’t seen her process, but I’m pretty sure she places the articles and pictures on the paper the same way Jackson Pollock painted. Pretty sure.
While it would be ideal if everyone on Capitol Hill shared a single copy of the newspaper, it makes much more sense to print out several thousand copies. My editor puts the original in a briefcase handcuffed to his leg and walks it over to the printing plant, which I visited a few weeks ago. Despite a very comprehensive tour, I still don’t quite understand how the printing works. Let me try to explain it the best I can.
They take a digital copy of the newspaper and print it onto aluminum plates from a massive zamboni-shaped laser printer. As you know, our paper is not printed on aluminum (because a dog could never pick it up), so clearly there’s another step. These aluminum plates are then inserted into the printing press, a room-long machine that uses hilariously large rolls of paper. Each roll weighs about 1,300 pounds, can produce 20,000 copies, and would reach 5 miles if stretched all the way out (but why would you do that?).
The printing press inks the pages, lines them up, “cuts them from the roll into sheets, and then folds them down into a paper, and what comes out the back end of the press is a folded, finished, ready to read newspaper, hot off the presses, as they say” (it’s like you were on the tour with me!). These papers are then bundled up and delivered to residences and businesses throughout Capitol Hill. At least that’s what the trucks tell us they’re doing. After a day of rest, we do it all over again the following week, but with a little less energy and enthusiasm.
So now you know everything that goes into making this newspaper. Maybe you’ll think about that the next time you’re using it to pick up dog shit. Jeez.
Follow Mr. Gordon on twitter: @chasongordon