24 hours in the life of a newspaper

Editor’s note: This column is dedicated to the hard-working people of The Courier, The Advertiser-Tribune and Review Times, and those I’ve known at other places over the years. The bylines you see in the paper daily and those you talk to when calling or buying an ad are far from all of the important people who make a newspaper special.

The crack of the bat as a soft grounder comes rolling to the Little Leaguer.

He bends down with his glove, taking a bounce off the ground as the ball picks up steam. He fields it, stands upright and tosses it to his father.

The Little Leaguer is me, no extraordinary story here. The site of this practice session, however, is no ordinary place — it’s the newsprint storage room of The Alpena News, the newspaper my dad published during my childhood and continues to.

I was always mesmerized by the press — its massive stature, the sound it made when cranking up, the amazing sight of newspapers being formed at what feels like warp speed. The smell, how the room took the black hue of thick ink, these are things that will never leave me.

Growing up, I spent a lot of time at the newspaper, experiences that fueled my future. Homework, lunch and fielding practice were often done there.

Recently, I spent a day looking at all aspects of putting the newspaper together. As part of the business side of newspapering, I spend a lot of time working during the day. Every day, I see our sales representatives working to serve our clients. I see our circulation departments working hard to organize the delivery of our paper. I see our digital team putting together websites and digital services for businesses far and wide. I see the day editorial staff making calls, checking facts and feverishly typing away on their computers as they work on the next day’s stories. I see planning and collaboration.

But it’s after 5 p.m. when you really notice some things.

At that point, the cast changes. A newspaper undergoes a shift from a business facility to a production facility.

The first couple hours after 5 are quiet. There is an eerie silence as you walk around not only the office, but also the printing press and mailroom area. Despite nary a light on, the schedule reveals that in just a few hours, things will be cranking at full bore with people working together across the floor.

The early evening is owned by editorial, the only department really active between 5 and roughly 9. The editorial intensity increases as deadline approaches, as the professionals get closer to building out the next edition. Sports writers return from the area’s gyms, camera in hand, catchy lead in mind.

As deadline approaches, the heart and soul of a newspaper — the printers and mailroom workers — begin to file in. Plates are made as the press prepares to crank up. As the press hums, the printers carefully check the specifics of the run, and make adjustments. It is a job that is part mechanical, part art and all a craft.

After the press, the papers head toward our inserter, where the inserts are helped into the paper by a steady team and steady machine. In this process, the papers are organized for their final moments inside the building. This is a fascinating process of teamwork. They are organized into groups and loaded into trucks or vans. Next stop — your front porch.

During the overnight hours when the rest of the world is sleeping, our team of carriers and bundle haulers get the paper to your doorstep or favorite store. Rain, snow or calm, they traverse the area with a humble dedication six days a week.

That process ends roughly around 6 or 7 in the morning, when the business crew begins to file back into the building, a new day of possibilities waiting in the wings.

Twenty four hours a day, someone is working on putting together or delivering your newspaper. And this guy who grew up taking grounders off the basement floor of a newspaper building is still as much mesmerized by it today as I was as a wide-eyed young boy.

Jeremy Speer is the publisher of The Courier in Findlay, The Advertiser-Tribune in Tiffin and the Review Times in Fostoria. He can be reached at jspeer@advertiser-tribune.com or jeremyspeer@thecourier.com.