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December 9, 2016 5:40 AM   Subscribe

Meet The Machinists Who Keep the New York Times Running is a short video from Motherboard. The video initiates a new series, State of Repair, which will look at the work involved in keeping legacy industrial infrastructure functioning.
posted by carter (22 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
38 years on from Farewell ETAOIN SHRDLU, the magnificent film about the last day of hot metal typesetting at the Times. (previously)
posted by zamboni at 5:55 AM on December 9, 2016 [13 favorites]


And if Chris Bedetto has been at the Times for 33 years, Special to the Times shows you what the Gray Lady was like the year before he started, although it focuses on the editorial and reporting side of things.
posted by zamboni at 6:08 AM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


So I'm at work watching this at work, and thinking how much I would rather be doing what they're doing than what I'm doing now, even though I was not that fond of ink.
I know this is nostalgia, but I spend a lot of time looking back on the work I did at IBM. I'm from an era where machines were built to be repaired, and I took a lot of satisfaction from turning non-working machines into working ones. I miss working with my hands, although they are now much less scarred and dirty. My lower back is happier too. So... the good old days.

Concerning band-aid fixes. I did many of those in my time. There is a saying 'if you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?'
As he makes clear, you have time after the paper is put to bed. You have to get the work out. Now.

One thing they did not mention in the video was how hard moving paper is on metal. You would probably be surprised at how much paper can erode steel.

Thanks for the post.
posted by MtDewd at 6:54 AM on December 9, 2016 [13 favorites]


These are not so much machinists as millwrights I think. /nitpick

That said, I'd like to second zamboni's recommendation for Farewell ETAOIN SHRDLU. Magnificent is a valid descriptor there.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:55 AM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Wow. Kind of sad to see these guys saying things like "I think this paper will last another fifteen years."

What an amazing job. When I was driving around with a giant case of tools fixing printers and computers I used to dream about one day having a job where I sat at a desk and typed on a screen all day. I figured once I was there I'd have made it and I could look down at all those schlubs getting their hands dirty. Now I sit and type and I've pretty much destroyed my neck over the years and I dream of having a job where I can use my hands, but most of them don't seem to pay much these days.

I envy these guys in a lot of ways.

What I don't envy are the tight areas they have to get into. When I was a tech I really appreciated things that were designed to be repaired. The Hewlett-Packard Laser Jets 2 and 4 were a dream to work on. Very modular, very easy to get in, pull it apart, and replace something. There were some machines that were just impossible to do anything with.
posted by bondcliff at 6:57 AM on December 9, 2016 [7 favorites]


During my few years' stint in journalism, my very first job was overnight editorial clerk. One of the tasks I had was to go down to the pressroom at 3 AM, pull a stack of the day's paper, still warm and redolent of ink, and distribute it to the editors' desks ready for the morning shift. It was always a thrill to be in the pressroom - a different world, incredibly noisy, incredibly impressive, sometimes full of drama when there was a hold for a late-breaking story, or, really rarely, a front page change after the press had started. Interesting work, and there is a lot of pressure on the workers - a bump in timeliness threatens to send hundreds of trucks, distributors, deliverypeople, customers into immediate morning chaos.
posted by Miko at 6:59 AM on December 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


Kind of sad to see these guys saying things like "I think this paper will last another fifteen years."

I think they meant printing, not the paper as an entity.
posted by Miko at 7:03 AM on December 9, 2016


I'm a graphic artist and learned my trade through the early 70's and into the 80's, a whirlwind time of unceasing transition from cold type to photo type, to digital type, to setting your own on your Mac. There's still nothing in my memory quite like watching (and hearing) a room full of Linotype machines going at full-bore. And the massive presses at the newspapers. There's just something about big, room-sized machines, dedicated to a single purpose, doing their thing. You can't help but wear a big grin when you're witnessing them at-work.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:40 AM on December 9, 2016 [6 favorites]


I would love to see some sort of diagram of the path a newspaper takes in one of these machines. Obviously it must start with those giant rolls of paper, and ends up in a neatly-tied bundle, but how does it get printed, cut, collated, and folded on its way from A to B?
posted by bondcliff at 7:55 AM on December 9, 2016


Very cool. At my job I do a lot of controls retrofits on legacy industrial equipment. There is something very satisfying about taking an old piece of machinery and making it work again and possibly even using modern tech to improve on it. When they talk about the adrenaline you get when working on something that's got the whole line shut down and the satisfaction you get when you fix it and you see the entire plant come back to life is so true. If you've ever shut down an auto assembly line for 15 minutes, you know that is the longest 15 minutes of your life; but when you fix it and everyone goes back to work at the same time it's pretty cool to experience.

While I appreciate what these guys do and their point of view, I get tired of hearing the whole "they don't build em like they used to" nostalgia. They built plenty of crap back in the day and I've seen it and worked on it. Likewise there's plenty of good stuff being built today, as well as plenty of crap, so the world contains multitudes. If I never have to work on a hydraulic logic circuit again it will be too soon, some things are just better done with electronics.
posted by dudemanlives at 8:05 AM on December 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


I think they meant printing, not the paper as an entity.

I'm pretty sure Jerry Greaney meant the paper as an entity.
I believe the way newspapers are closing around the country, that eventually all newspapers will go out of… out of business, but I think the New York Times will be here for another fifteen years.
posted by zamboni at 8:46 AM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


I would love to see some sort of diagram of the path a newspaper takes in one of these machines. Obviously it must start with those giant rolls of paper, and ends up in a neatly-tied bundle, but how does it get printed, cut, collated, and folded on its way from A to B?

It does indeed start with the giant rolls of paper. At the paper I was working at, those giant rolls had a specialized forklift to stack and unstack them, and carts that had their own little mini-railway system to get the to the presses. The configuration of how they go through the presses varies with what they're printing that day; a small Tuesday paper will have a much simpler configuration than a Sunday paper, which will usually take up all the towers. (We had two presses, each of which consisted of several press towers. The color towers were very tall, while the black ink towers were shorter. The tricks they did to fit color onto pages via multiple towers verge on amazing.) You typically would see one of two configurations on the press - straight or collect. Straight meant you got twice as many papers for each turn of the press. Collect allowed you to fit far more pages on the press but it would take longer to print.

The fun part is the cut-collate-fold That all happens at one central machine on the press, and it happens almost in one step. What makes it really fun is that the presses at our paper typically ran at 40-60,000 papers per hour, printed, cut, collated, and folded. It's quite the process - but when the folder has a glitch, things go very wrong very fast. I've seen a jammed folder force them to move the printing to the other press because it was going to take so long to get the folder cleared and fixed. But, for the most part, it worked well (thanks to relentless maintenance, because time truly is money on a press run.) A conveyor belt with clips would pick up the papers one at a time - very quickly - and take them over to the packaging center where they were stuffed with inserts, classified sections, and what not, and then put into a bundler. All of this happened within a minute or two from the paper hitting the press.

Here's a video of a press in action. When you see the "Metro-Offset" machine spitting out papers, that's the place they're all cut collated and folded in very fast order.
posted by azpenguin at 8:46 AM on December 9, 2016 [5 favorites]


What's the difference between a time machinist and a Times machinist?
posted by chrchr at 8:53 AM on December 9, 2016


Many years ago, I had a job printing a magazine on a classic ABDick 360 offset press.. It was a tremendously satisfying job. The video azpenguin posted of the press workers at the Charlotte newspaper reminded me of it on a much larger scale—the metal plates, for instance, checking ink flow and registration.
posted by Orlop at 11:35 AM on December 9, 2016


I'm pretty sure Jerry Greaney meant the paper as an entity.
I believe the way newspapers are closing around the country, that eventually all newspapers will go out of… out of business, but I think the New York Times will be here for another fifteen years.


Not to get all super dug in, but I'm taking his technical perspective into account. The paper might go out of the print business, but I don't think he's anywhere near right that papers are going out of business in 15 years. His business is likely to go out of business, though.
posted by Miko at 1:00 PM on December 9, 2016


I'm going to take his words at face value, even if I hope he's wrong. You might be right that, as far as Greaney is concerned, there's no distinction between the presses shutting down and the paper going out of business.

-30-
posted by zamboni at 2:08 PM on December 9, 2016


Some of the comments above remind me of a funny story about that one time Xerox and Heidelberg (I believe) formed a joint venture to build a high-speed digital press. Apparently at one of the design meetings the Xerox folks brought up some malfunction scenario involving a "paper jam." The Heidelberg people looked at them like they were from Mars. These guys were used to continuous feed (web) presses where the paper travels at speeds measured in miles per hour. A "jam" of the sort you get in a copier would basically destroy the kinds of machines the Heidelberg guys were used to designing. And they designed their presses with tolerances that minimized the chance of that.

I guess the Xerox folks learned a lot about the business they were about to enter that day.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 3:27 PM on December 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


Amazing, the knowledge that's stored in those three people. I think I'm really going to enjoy this series.

> "they don't build em like they used to" nostalgia. They built plenty of crap back in the day

This made me suddenly realise that, of course, you don't see stuff from back in the day still chugging along when it was built like crap originally.
posted by lucidium at 4:28 PM on December 9, 2016


I spent most of my printer years on continuous forms machines, and it's true you get higher speeds and less jams there, but CF can get some big jams too, and do some machine destruction.
The CF machines I worked on were usually around 216-300 8-1/2x11 images per minute (twice that for duplex), and the cut sheet were only up to around 90.
But the most spectacular jams were on the 1419 check sorters. Those guys ran around 1750 checks a minute and if it jammed, it usually jammed about 30 or 40 checks into a tiny wad before it stopped.
posted by MtDewd at 5:12 PM on December 9, 2016


If there's a bevel gear in there that needs to be replaced some day, I may be the person who makes it, this was cool, thanks!
posted by MikeWarot at 6:04 PM on December 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


Here's a very detailed video (for children) of the Toronto Star 's presses.

I toured the Chicago Tribune presses long, long ago, and what sticks in my mind is that, because Chicago is a swamp and the press machines are fucking ginormous and shake like crazy, they had to sink pillars (steel beams, I think?) down through the swampy land that most foundations are built on and right into the bedrock, which is about 75 feet down in Chicago. Otherwise the heavy presses would just shake the building down into the earth over time.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:35 AM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


The Heidelberg people looked at them like they were from Mars.

I remember asking the AT&T rep who was trying to sell me a Multiprotocol Label Switching over ATM solution in the late 90's if I could just the an ethernet jack with a bunch of IP addresses and remember getting a similar reaction.

Time Warner Business Class was installing them within a year or two. Then we retired the UUCP over dial up.
posted by mikelieman at 5:39 AM on December 10, 2016


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