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Times goes paperless


What you are reading is a paperless paper, and you have been for the past week.

It sounds like a contradiction. After all, how could a newspaper be made without paper--and still be called a paper of any sort?

Admittedly, the term is a bit of an overstatement. After all, if we didn’t print paper at some point, then you wouldn’t be getting ink stains on your fingers as you read this article.

But except for the final product, this edition of the Times has been put together without using one bit of paper. Hence the term “paperless.”

In a process that has been evolving over the past two months, the Times has come to a point now where everything is processed electronically--from ordering ads and classifieds, to writing stories, to scanning pictures into the computer, to doing the page layout, to printing the pages directly to film.

All done through an intricate system of computer networks and workgroups.

“You’re looking at having to put in over $150,000 into new equipment and software into the office,” said Times office manager Linda Plumridge. “It’s an investment.”

It’s a bit different from the way things used to be. In the summer of 1995, the Times announced it had become paginated, meaning it designed its papers on a computer.

But we still had to print those pages to regular paper, then “cut and paste” them to fit around the ads on “flats,” which were then sent to the darkroom to be shot to a negative. And before that could happen, the information for the ads had to be written down, the ads designed, printed, proofed, printed again with corrections, and then laid out by hand on the blank templates.

In short, a lot of paper was used.

Now, the paper trail has been replaced with an electronic one. The sales department enters ads into the computer system, which are then taken by the ad creation department.

From there, the ads are laid out electronically on “dummied pages,” which are saved and stored on the computer’s file server. Then the editorial department places its stories and photos--all of which already had been saved electronically in the system in different “folders”--around the ads and sends the finished pages to an image-setter, which converts the electronic “page” into a negative.

That negative is then “burned” onto a plate (just are before), which is bolted to the press.

“It may be a way to use time more efficiently,” Plumridge said. “The image-setter will help us be more competitive in commercial printing [as well].”

That isn’t to say the process has run smoothly. Software problems, system crashes, corrupted fonts, and server failure have become familiar terms around the office throughout the upgrade--all while we’re continuing to put out a paper Monday through Friday.

In essence, the system upgrade has been like changing the oil in a truck while the engine is running--possible but not easy to do.

Plumridge said the frustration of the changeover has hit everyone working in the building, and it could be a while longer until everything is smoothed out completely.

“We’re still finding the glitches daily,” she said. “[But] what we will be able to do when everything is working will be really good.

“Hopefully, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.

More changes may be still to come but nothing as major as this one, Plumridge noted. One item the Times is looking at is archiving its newspapers on a CD-ROM system “but that’s a little bit down the line,” she said.

“We look back to my father who wrote an article years ago on the changes of technology,” Plumridge said. “He instilled in us to watch for new technology.

“If you’re not looking ahead, you can’t get there very easily.”

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