Pre internet How a paper gets a news report from across the world

How a paper gets a news report from across the world

It is a red-letter day for South Africa’s tennis fans – especially those living in and around Johannesburg. A local boy has reached the final of the Italian men’s singles championship in Rome, and his success or failure will be headline news in both countries.

It will probably make the front page of the South African player’s morning paper. The editor faces a choice on how to cover the match. He can rely on news-agency reports and pictures; or he can take the trouble to send his own sports reporter and a staff photographer to cover the game at first hand. In view of the keen local interest, he decides to fly out his own team.

The reporter and photographer arrive in Rome in time for a Press conference the day before the match. This enables the reporter to produce a colourful background article about the match and the build-up to it complete with quotes from the two finalists.

The South African player is a teenager who has yet to win a major championship; his opponent is an older and far more experienced Scandinavian, the current title holder. It is, as the reporter puts it, a classic encounter between ‘a young pretender and a reigning king’.

The match is due to start at 2pm Rome time, and could last the whole afternoon. So by South African time, the same as Rome’s, the result should be known by about 6pm. The newsmen will have no problem sending their words and pictures within the deadline for their paper’s morning edition.

In the Press Box, the reporter can type his copy into his portable word processor. This laptop machine, complete with screen and digital memory, is a remote terminal of the paper’s main computer. When his story is complete, the reporter simply attaches the audio coupler, or adapter, to the nearest telephone, keys in the number of his newspaper, and the text is sent along the wires directly into the computer 5500 miles (8850km) away. A 1000-word story is sent in about one minute.

Unexpectedly, the match ends in a brilliant and sensational victory for the young South African player. To add to the set-by-set account already keyed into his laptop machine, the reporter will now interview the winning and losing finalists.

Meanwhile, the photographer has a date with an international news agency whose picture-transmission equipment he needs. He processes his film, then feeds the best negatives into a transmitter. This sends the images along a telephone line – and they promptly emerge as high-quality duplicate negatives from the picture-editor’s receiver back in Johannesburg.

After interviewing the tennis stars, the reporter returns to his hotel room and prepares his final copy, rearranging and correcting the text on the laptop-machine’s VDU (Visual Display Unit) screen.

 

At 8pm he rings the hotel switchboard for an outside line, and transmits his follow-up story. This gives more background detail and ‘colour’ than is found in the news-breaking television and radio reports. It also contains speculation about the new champion’s future prospects, plus an account of his lifestyle.

Front-page news

At about 9pm the South African sports editor calls up the tennis story on his desktop screen. As agreed earlier at an editorial planning meeting, the story will be the sports-page lead. The startling result ensures there will also be a front-page news item, adapted from the main story, which the news editor can call up on his own screen.

The big story is then checked and corrected by a sub-editor, who adjusts it to make it fit the space allocated on the page by the sports editor. The sub-editor can call up on his screen an image of the whole page as it stands so far, showing all the other stories, headlines and pictures – and advertisements, if any – that have already been processed.

Once the picture and sports editors have chosen the photograph that will illustrate the story, the sub-editor knows exactly what space there is. The copy is now finally edited, on screen, to fit the space, and a suitably dramatic headline written to fit the story and the space available. The subeditor also keys in the picture caption. It is almost 10pm, by which time all copy for the first edition must be set in type.

The Rome story lines up with all the other copy for conversion into type by a high-speed phototypesetting machine. The 1000-word article is typeset in less than 30 seconds.

The typesetter produces a ‘bromide’ – a print of the type on photographic paper for positioning on the page according to the approved layout.

Although pages can be made up by using the computer, most newspapers still prefer physically to cut up the bromides and paste them in position on a page-size card – a rapid process when carried out by a skilled compositor. The sub-editor checks that all the stories fit the allocated space, and that no errors have crept in before or during typesetting.

With all the text, headlines, pictures and between-column rules in position, the complete page is photographed to produce, in minutes, a film negative. This is a large black-and-white film, from which the printing plates for the presses are made.

First of all, photostatted ‘proofs’, or sample pages, are made for approval by the sports editor and the editor. Once the pages have been approved and checked by the proofreaders, they are taken to the printing department.

By midnight in South Africa, all the pages are ready to be photographically transferred to plastic-coated zinc or aluminium printing plates. In turn, the plates pick up the page images in ink and transfer them to the paper.

Speed, as at every stage of the process, is crucial, for the papers must be on time for the 80 or so lorries that will distribute them to sales points such as small general dealers and street corners throughout an area of some 100,000sq miles (259,000sq km). The nearer the wholesalers are to the printing centre, the later are the editions they receive. Those later editions will often look radically different as fresh news stories break, claiming space on the front page. Some page-one stories are therefore relegated to relative obscurity on a revised inside page.

Satisfied reader

So, as he drinks his breakfast coffee, the Johannesburg sports fan avidly reads the account of the local boy’s triumph. The sports reporter, meanwhile, is just waking up in Rome. For him, it is all just yesterday’s news.

Press pack

No big sporting event is without its pack of Press photographers – whose pictures are sent by special transmitter.

Making the page

Compositors cut up bromides – type on photographic paper and paste them onto newspaper-size cards.

Filling and retouching Any holes found in a newspaper negative after the page has been made up are filled in – or retouched – by using a special black pen.