Star Printing

Star's Printing Press Keeps on Rolling
Experienced pressmen make sure newspaper gets to readers

By Joel Danoy
The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — The smell of oil, grease, paper and ink emanate from the newspaper printing press as the safety bell signals the machine is about to “inch over,” a reference to the ink rollers slowly getting started.

The clock reads 1 a.m. — the nightly deadline for press foreman Glen Stickel and his five-member crew to begin printing the upcoming day’s edition of The Winchester Star.

Press workers run up and down the 90-foot printing press in The Star’s north building at 2 N. Kent St.

Pressroom Manager Glen Stickel removes a lasser-etched printing plate from the Trendsetter computer-to-plate processing equipment.  The finished plate, which holds two newspaper pages, must be used immediately since more than an hour of exposure to light willruin the image on the plate. Once imaging is finished, the plates are place don the printing press.
The Winchester Star is printed on a Goss Urbanite 1300 eight-unit offset press. Purchased in 1981, it is housed in The Star's north building at 2 N. Kent St. the press is 90 feet long and 15 feet high.
Pressman Scott Lewis climbs atop the press to make an adjustment as the printed pages speed over his head. "Everything must be balanced and aligned because if it's a fraction of an inch off the quality is going to be poor," says pressroom manager Glen Stickel.
Nick Campisi, assistant manager of the pressroom, operates the panel that controls all units of the press.
Large rolls of newsprint feed into the press as Ken Norasing inspects the finished product. During a typical run of 20,000 copies, eight rolls of paper are used.
The rolls of paper are fed through the press and an image of a page is transfered from a plate to the print.

They periodically grab papers off the conveyor, inspecting for proper color alignment, imperfections and overall product quality.

“You have to be quick on your feet and be constantly checking,” Stickel said. “Everything must be balanced and aligned because if it’s a fraction of an inch off, the quality is going to be poor.”

Nearly 38,000 images are transferred from the ink rollers to the paper every hour, for a rate of about 20,000 complete editions in that time — roughly the daily paid circulation of The Star.

Like clockwork, this process of checking, adjusting and refining the final product repeats itself every night — except on Saturdays, since The Star has no Sunday edition.

Established July 4, 1896, The Star is celebrating its 115th anniversary this year.

In 1964, the newspaper became the first daily publication in Virginia to install an “offset” printing press, replacing the “hot metal” letter printing process.

It’s called offset printingbecause the printing plate never directly touches the paper. The image on the plate is transferred to a rubber “blanket” on a roller that is offset to the paper for the final impression.

The Star’s latest press, installed in 1981, has undergone several changes over the years to improve the final product and to stay current with technological advances in the industry.

Preparation is the key

Arriving around 5 each afternoon, Stickel and his staff immediately begin conducting preventive maintenance — the most important aspect of their jobs.

Paper and ink rollers are adjusted to assure a proper alignment while printing. The printing press is wiped clean of any excess grease or ink. The gears are lubricated to ensure a smooth nightly run.

Accounting for nearly 75 percent of their duties, maintenance on the eight-unit 15-foot-high printing press is essential to keep the nearly 30-year-old Goss Urbanite 1300 running its two 150-horsepower motors.

Stickel said it’s much easier to maintain the machine through maintenance than to replace one of its eight units.

It would cost several million dollars to purchase a new press, he said. Refurbishing units can be done for far less cost than purchasing new units.

The expenses of maintaining aging printing presses have prompted several daily publications — among them The Danville Register & Bee, The News Leader in Staunton and The Herald-Mail in Hagerstown, Md. — to outsource the printing of their newspaper.

“We just can’t afford to have anything go down during press time or we’re going to be in big trouble,” Stickel said. “That’s why it’s that old and still running good — the parts are kept clean.”

Originally installed with an analog format, the printing press in recent months has undergone a technological upgrade to a digital format, which improves its longevity and durability while eliminating the costs of scarce parts.

“Some of the parts are not made any more for analog and if you do find them, they are at an astronomical price,” Stickel said. “The whole press runs a lot better with digital — stronger and smoother. It makes the press motors run better.”

A cleaner image

While the printing press is being prepared, designers in the newsroom use computers to place the next day’s stories onto the virtual pages of the paper.

The final designs are exported from the newsroom’s computer system to a high-tech database in the production area that transfers the page images onto laser-etched printing plates — the first step in converting the pages from a digital to hard-copy format.

These plates, made of aluminum, are sold for recycling after they’re used.

According to Stickel, what used to be a three-step process, taking nearly three hours to create one plate, is now reduced to about 15 minutes with the installation of the laser plate-maker about two years ago.

“It’s less hands-on, and the less people dealing with the plate, the better,” Stickel said. “It creates a cleaner image and the laser printer gives us a better definition of the color and black.”

The finished plates must be used or covered immediately, since more than an hour of exposure to light will ruin the plate.

Once finished, the plates are carried by hand to the printing press, where they are placed on the plate rollers.

“Now we’re ready to get printing,” Stickel said. “At this point, we just have to start the press.”

Getting ready to roll

Hanging from the two ends of the printing press, the paper rolls weigh in at 680 pounds each. The 22-inch-wide White Birch paper has seen a dramatic reduction in size — gradually dwindling from 31 inches wide nearly 32 years ago when Stickel began his printing career at The Star.

“It’s still a good quality-grade paper, but with today’s economy and the way prices are, that’s what the industry is going to now,” Stickel said. “[The size] has been coming down gradually, so who knows where it’s going [from here]?”

All newsprint used at The Star is at least 40 percent recycled content. Misprints and paper scraps are bundled and sold for recycling.

The press room is kept at about 70 degrees — the perfect printing temperature.

Paper rolls are brought into the press area on the night before so they can adjust to the room’s climate.

If the room is too cold, the paper will become brittle and could tear. Too hot, and it will feel wet and the ink won’t be fully absorbed into the paper, causing it to smudge when touched.

“That’s critical — we must have the paper ready to print on,” Stickel said.

During a typical run of 20,000 editions, eight rolls of paper are used. The press has four paper runs occurring at one time and each run takes two rolls.

Spinning off the roll, the paper enters a series of giant metal rollers that transfer the plate image onto the paper.

Ink by the barrel

Ink, water and paper are the key ingredients during the printing process.

However, like a fine recipe, the blend must be exact.

Too much water makes the image appear too light and gray, while too much ink causes the image to smudge.

“It’s a delicate balance that we have to find,” Stickel said.

At a rate of 400 gallons a month, black ink is used the most during the printing process. Three soybean-based color inks are also used — cyan (blue), magenta (red) and yellow.

The ink is called “low-rub,” which reduces smudging by drying faster on the paper.

On average, 100 gallons of color ink — including 55 gallons of red — are also used during a 30-day period. “Red is a more dominant color, and it’s what makes the pictures,” Stickel said.

Not a drop is wasted, as all unused ink is scraped off the press and filtered through a separation system that removes lint particles that accumulate from the paper during printing.

Simply mix one 5-gallon bucket of dirty ink with four 5-gallon buckets of black ink, Stickel said, and an ink recycler — which holds up to 50 gallons of recycled ink — mixes all the ink together. The ink then filters into a 1,585-gallon bulk tank until it’s reused again.

“You can mix anything with black because black is a dominant color and it will override all the other colors,” he said.

Empty ink barrels are scraped of remaining ink and also sold to recycling.

To maximize the smooth transfer of ink onto paper, the paper must maintain 50 pounds of pressure. The tension ensures that four critical aspects of the page are properly aligned.

Stickel and his team grab papers off the conveyor, checking for the alignment of page numbers, colors, margin widths and that photos are in registration — the method of correlating overlapping colors into one single image.

“When we’re looking at the pages, you have to have an eye for the small imperfections,” Stickel said.

Hot off the press

With images and text transferred to paper, The Star enters its final stages of production.

After passing through the printing units, the paper is fed into an upside-down triangle called a “former board.”

Pages are then sent through the “folder” — at a rate of 35,000 copies per hour — where they are folded and cut to size.

“The paper that comes shooting out is the final product,” Stickel said.

A conveyor belt carries papers up from the press floor level to mailroom/circulation area in the next room, where special advertising supplements are inserted in each edition. The newspapers are bundled, loaded onto delivery trucks and transported to storefronts, homes, mail and street vendor boxes.

“From start to finish, it takes us about two to three hours to print each night,” Stickel said. “Since The Star began printing, it has never missed a publication, and it’s not going to happen on my watch.”

Paper and Ink Go Digital
Some Star readers choose to get
their local news online

By Joel Danoy
The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER  -- Many newspaper readers are trading in their smudgy black fingertips for smooth touch-screen surfaces.

Although 93 percent of The Winchester Star’s roughly 50,000 weekday readers (75,000 on Saturdays) still enjoy the hardcopy version, some readers are choosing to get their news online.

To accommodate this growing trend, The Star launched a free website in 1999.

In 2008, online subscribers, for a fee, were able to view an E-edition that replicates the look of the pages of The Star. The cost is $6 per month or $65 per year.

A year later, The Star and its sister paper, the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg, became the first daily newspapers in Virginia to implement a paid website format. The cost is $3 per month or $30 per year.

But The Star is not alone nationwide. Other newspapers including The Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News and The New York Times charge readers to view at least some website content.

This spring, The Star introduced an app for the iPad. Short for application, an app is a compact software program that performs specific tasks for mobile users. The Star’s app allows readers to quickly download the electronic edition of the newspaper on the iPad.

“We need to make sure we are in the position that as things change, we’re changing with them or not far behind it,” said Bobby Ford, website and E-edition designer for The Star.

The newspaper uses a free service offered by Google that generates detailed statistics about the visitors to a website, making it possible to track the habits of online readers, such as how long they stay on the site, how many pages they look at, which medium they use to reach the site and the overall number of visitors during a time period.

From Feb. 5 to March 7 of this year, Ford said, iPhone smartphone users visited the website 2,152 times and Android smartphone users, more than 2,100 times.

The application also tracks the number of times a story is viewed. According to Ford, the arrest of former Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul H. Thomson is the most-viewed story since the website moved to a paid option nearly 18 months ago.

The disappearance, search and arrest of accused murderer Justin Slater in June 2009; the December 2009 death of a man and his 11-year-old daughter as a result of a head-on collision with a Frederick County school bus; and the January 2009 execution of Edward Bell for the 1999 killing of Winchester police Sgt. Ricky L. Timbrook round out the top four most- viewed stories on the website in recent years.

“This is important information for us because you can’t define what people read, but you can certainly get an idea,” Ford said, “and you can start providing a product that is geared toward those readers’ habits and tendencies.”

He said the continuing trend to wireless platforms is a time for growth, rather than resistance. The Star will continue, he said, to evolve and reinvent itself to keep up with new technology.

“Our philosophy is that we still have a very important purpose and now we just have more than one way to let people know about it and they can determine which method works best for them,” Ford said. “The only change is how that information is presented. We couldn’t just sit around and not make that change to the Internet because that’s when papers die — when they can’t adapt to a necessary change, such as the one the Internet created.”

Regardless of how the news is delivered, Ford said, the primary mission of the newspaper has not changed.

“No matter how things change from a technology standpoint, telling the story is still first and foremost,” he said. “You have to look at this as a way to make the story reach more people — that’s how you’re going to survive.”