IT’S A DIRTY JOB
By M. Scott Morris
There’s nothing like a multi-million dollar printing press functioning exactly as it should.
“When it’s running good, it’s fine. When you start to have trouble, it seems like when it rains it pours,” said Larry Morris, press foreman for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.
It takes a crew of at least six people to print 39,600 to 40,000 newspapers each day.
“On a good day it takes about an hour and 30 minutes,” Morris said.
Good days don’t include paper line breaks, color photographs that just won’t line up the way they’re supposed to, paper jams and any number of other potential mechanical foul-ups on the line. That makes routine press maintenance an integral part of printing a newspaper.
“You have to check certain things daily, some weekly and some by the month,” Morris said.
Without diligent maintenance, it would be impossible for the pressmen to handle the volume of work they do. Including the Daily Journal, the printing crew puts out 23 separate publications, including the Pontotoc Progress, the Itawamba County Times and the Baldwyn News to name a few.
“It’s always busy. There are not a lot of slack periods when you can sit down. You’re constantly doing something,” Morris said.
It takes a good supply of raw materials to keep everything running smoothly and on time, according to Clay Foster, production director.
“On a monthly basis, we use about 7,400 pounds of black ink,” said Foster, adding that the Journal uses about 2,000 pounds of color ink and 350 tons of recycled paper each month.
“That’s an average. It fluctuates from month to month depending on the size of the papers,” Foster said.
Morris has been printing papers of various sizes for the past 23 years.
“I started out as a paper catcher,” he said. “I caught papers as they rolled off the line.”
Technology has changed the nature of his job. In the old days, press workers relied upon their eyes to monitor the density of ink on a page. Now electronic meters help keep the density more consistent, Morris said.
“On black, an ink density of 1.05 is a good setting,” Morris said. While the number may not mean anything to readers, the results do.
“It keeps the ink from rubbing off on people’s hands and it makes the paper look even all the way through. That makes it easier to read,” he said.
The meter also comes in handy when printing color pictures, Morris said. The Daily Journal uses yellow, black, cyan and magenta to create all color combinations. When printing a picture, it must run through the four different color plates.
Rather than looking at a copy of the picture, the press workers use a gray bar at the bottom of the page to align the color. Ideally, the gray bar is comprised of equal parts of cyan, yellow and magenta, Morris said.
“If the bar looks too red, blue or yellow, then we know the colors aren’t set right,” Morris said.
In that case, pressmen adjust the machine to even out the distribution of colors.
“It’s hard to maintain the color. That’s a challenge,” he said.
Smell of the press
Printing a newspaper is a loud business, and Morris usually wears headphones or earplugs.
“The faster the press runs, the louder it is,” Morris said.
It’s also a dirty job. Working on a press means hands are covered in a mixture of cyan, yellow, magenta and black, with black being the predominant color.
“We have dressing rooms with showers if you need to take a shower before you go home,” Morris said.
A visitor to the pressroom immediately notices the smell of ink, oil and solvents that accompany Morris’ job. After 23 years, Morris rarely takes notice.
“If I’m gone for two or three days, I notice the smell,” Morris said. “Then I get used to it again.”