Headquarters of The Navajo Times in Window Rock, Arizona, the capital of the Navajo Nation. Photo by Donovan Shortey / Navajo Photography

Tim Giago: Nothing could ever beat the smell of ink in a Native newsroom

Notes from Indian Country

Nothing could beat the smell of ink in the newsroom
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji – Stands Up for Them)

Loren Tapahe did a slide show at the Native American Journalists Association Convention a couple of years ago and Loren should revamp it and run it from now on at every NAJA convention.

Tapahe is the former publisher of the Navajo Times. He recalled how it was in the newspaper newsrooms back in the good old days. Every editor back then talked the printer into saving the stubs of the newsprint rolls and the staff would cut the left-over paper into strips just wide enough to fit on a standard typewriter.

The strips were usually twice as long as regular typing paper and so the editor would lay the strips out on his or her desk and start editing with a red pen. The strip was brought back to the reporter who went over all of the edits and made the corrections. The edited strips then went to the person operating the Compugraphic Machine or typesetter where the copy was typed on film strips.

The film strips were carefully cut to column size, run through a wax machine, and then placed on the grid sheets. We then used plastic rollers to secure the film strips to the grid sheets. Tapahe recalled how the strips sometimes got caught in the wax roller and went round and round while the layout person went crazy trying to retrieve it.

After all of the copy was waxed to the grid sheets the typesetter set up for larger type and then did the headlines which were waxed in turn and place above the news copy. The photographs were then carefully waxed and placed in the open spots measured for them on the layout pages. And presto, you had an entire news page ready to go to the darkroom where the printer developed them, burned them to plates and attached them to the print rollers.


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And then the presses started to roll. In all of my years as a publisher I never ever had the opportunity to yell, “Stop the presses!” Came close once during the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s presidential elections, but decided to hold the presses up for a day instead. Stanley Looking Elk won that year.

To a newspaper publisher the real pleasure comes from standing at the end of the printing press and catching a newspaper when the ink is still wet. It is like holding one’s own creation in your hands. You’ve seen all of the steps it took to get the paper to the end of the press and now you are holding the finished product.

One time the printing press at the Rapid City Journal broke down and they waiting on a part to get it up and running, but they were not sure they could make it by deadline. They called me and asked if they could print their paper on my press. I asked how many and they said about 40,000. Well, I got my print crew of Leon and Leo War Bonnet alerted and they were ready to go. At the last minute the Journal press was fixed and we didn’t have to print it.

Leo and Leon were two of the best printers I ever had. One day I was talking to the great newspaper publisher Allen Neuharth who started USA Today and told him I was buying a printing press and needed to train a couple of printers. He said, “Send them to Chandler, Arizona and we will train them on our USA Today press. All you have to do is pay for their room and board,” he said. And so they went to Chandler and trained for a little more than two months and came back to Rapid City to run my printing press at Indian Country Today. It was a great investment. The press did bite off one of Leo’s fingers but that is one of the occupational hazards of running a printing press.

Maybe someday in the near future everyone will be reading the news on their computers or Smart Phones, but to the old time newspaper publishers, nothing could beat the smell of the ink in the press room while the presses were running full speed.

Tapahe’s presentation took many of us back to the good old days of newspapers before everything shifted into high gear with computers and digital printing. Maybe Tapahe should refine the work he did for that presentation and take it to all of the Indian schools in America to show what newspapers like the Navajo Times and Indian Country Today did every day to prepare the news copy and the presses that made Indian journalism fun.

Contact Tim Giago at najournalist1@gmail.com

Copyright permission Native Sun News Today

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