Technology and Tools at Work

A black and white photograph of a large work room with several rows long tables, each with various items like papers scattered across them, on each side of the room. In the very back of the photo are lines of linotype machines. There are people scattered about the workspace.

The composing room at The Washington Post.

Spaces at The Washington Post:

The daily production of a newspaper required space, manpower, and machinery working together. With great speed and efficiency the stories, pages, and editions of the paper moved across The Washington Post building before they were distributed around the region and across the world. The domain of Deaf printers was the composing room, a large space that organized workers around equipment and tables.

In this video, Janie Golightly describes the layout of the composing room at The Washington Post.

Time: 3:31. Click to enable captions. Transcription here.

Tools of the Trade:

The work of printers involved the skilled use of tools and technology. While many Deaf printers were trained on letterpress and linotype printing in residential Deaf schools, the changing nature of the newspaper industry and introduction of new modes of production replaced much of the familiar equipment. As a result, in the later decades of the twentieth century, the composing room of The Washington Post contained a mixture of tools and workspaces.

A black and white photograph of the backside of a large linotype machine, revealing much of its mechanics, gears, and wires as they protrude from the machine.

Linotype machines at The Washington Post used molten lead to create lines of text for printing. The lead casting material, oblong bars known as “pigs,” are visible hanging on the side of the machine. Above these a half-melted “pig” hangs above a melting pot.

Hot Metal Printing:

At the end of the nineteenth century, the development of the linotype machine produced a revolution in newspaper printing. Previous methods used handset, movable type for relief printing. With linotype machines, printers could produce lines and pages of reproducible text at great speed and efficiency. For decades, the linotype was central to the production of newspapers, in a process known as hot metal printing. 

A color photograph of a linotype machine set in a corner. The black metal machine features a large keyboard at center right. At left, the apparatus for melting lead is visible. In front of the machine is a green operator's chair.

Operators would sit at the front of the machine, using the keyboard to type out lines of text. At the top, three magazines provided the user with access to different font types.

The linotype was a heavy piece of industrial machinery. It used molten lead to create molds of type pressed into lines of text. A linotype operator received the copy, or the text for articles and other materials which were prepared by reporters and writing staff in the newsroom. Seated at the front of the machine, the operator would key in the copy on the special 70-keyboard, which had separate keys for upper- and lower-case letters and punctuation. As the keys were depressed, small metal molds were released from a magazine at the top of the machine in order, forming a row of text. After the line of text was completed, hot liquid lead from a melting pot located on the side of the machine was poured over the molds and the line of text was cast. Each of these lines of text were known as slugs. The slugs slid down into a metal tray and cooled. Multiple slugs were gathered in the tray, in order, forming a galley or block of text. After the copy was keyed in, the operator would deliver the completed galley to the compositors in make-up.

A black and white photograph of a fair skinned older man as he works on a front page of a newspaper on a Make-up table. He wears glasses and a collared button down shirt with an apron.

A printer uses a mark-up sheet prepared by the editors to lay out the galleys of text and other elements to form the front page of the newspaper. 

A black and white photograph of the front page of the newspaper in hot metal, composed of blocks of lead type.

A completed front page of the newspaper in make up. 

In the composing room, compositors received the heavy lead galleys, organizing them into page columns with spacers and other elements at a long table. Occasionally editorial staff would meet with compositors to make corrections and fine-tune the layout of the page. A metal frame was fitted around the blocked page and locked into place. 

Compositors then pushed the heavy lead pages onto rolling carts, known as trucks, and they were taken to the Proofing Machine. The page was rolled through the machine and inked, producing a test print. Proofreaders quickly reviewed the test page for accuracy. When spelling errors and other mistakes were identified, an updated copy was sent to linotype operators who produced corrected slugs. The compositors replaced the slugs in the page.

A black and white color photograph of two fair skinned people, a man and woman, as they stand over a table with various newspaper page layouts. The woman, on the right, appears to be middle aged and has short hair; she wears a collared button down shirt with a suit jacket and tie. With one hand on her hip, she uses a pen to point somewhere on the newspaper layout. The man, on the left, appears to be older and wears glasses and a button down shirt with jeans.

Printers worked closely with writers and editors to ensure that pages were made-up accurately. Occasionally, this meant that editors would come to the Composing Room to implement changes.

After receiving final approval, a newspaper flong, or a temporary paper mold was formed from the metal page and used to create a cast for the printing press. The heavy lead page, made up of galleys of slugs, was then melted down and reused.

A scanned image of a newspaper front page. The letters and graphics are pressed into the paper creating a textured surface. The page features articles and images announcing the resignation of President Nixon.

A printing flong, or temporary paper mold, of the front page of The Washington Post. The front page features a bold headline announcing President Nixon’s resignation.

At the end of the 1960s, teletypesetting was introduced to the composing room. Teletypesetting automated the typesetting process. Teletypesetters used specialized typewriters to produce the copy from the news room. As a key on the typewriter was depressed, it perforated a thin paper tape with a specialized code. The thin reel of paper, now covered in small holes, was then fed into a modified linotype machine for printing. 

A black and white photograph of a large linotype machine with wires and various mechanics protruding from it, including a keyboard, placed upon a slightly taller platform on the floor.

A linotype machine using teletypesetting tape to produce slugs. The tape is visible on the right.

The linotype machine was equipped with a special device on top of the keyboard. As the paper tape was fed through the device, the code was interpreted into keystrokes on the linotype, producing slugs of text. The use of teletypesetting reduced the need for linotype operators. Instead, a single monitor could equip and maintain multiple linotype machines simultaneously, replenishing lead and depositing completed galleys with compositors for make-up.

A black and white photograph of two fair skinned middle aged people, a man and woman, as they stand in front of one linotype machine looking at the machine. The woman has short hair, glasses, and wears a shirt underneath an apron and long pants. The man has short hair and wears a collared button down shirt tucked into dress pants.

Deaf printer, Mike Golightly, monitors the linotype machine, with Deaf supervisor, Jan DeLap.

Cold Type:

The transition to phototypesetting and introduction of computers changed the nature of newspaper printing. While the transition occurred over decades, the smell, sound, and danger of hot metal printing increasingly disappeared from the composing room. New workspaces emerged featuring rows of computer terminals, a dark room and other photo technologies. While the various technologies overlapped in usage, the transition to cold composition phased out older printing approaches.

A color photograph of a fair skinned middle aged woman as she sits at a desk, her hands resting on a large keyboard and staring at the computer screen of a large, box shaped computer monitor. She has short brown hair with glasses and wears a tropical print collared short sleeved shirt tucked into teal pants.

Shirley Keefe working on an ad using Raycomp.

Video display terminals were introduced in the late 1970s and early 1980s at The Washington Post. Using an early computing technology known as Ray Comp, page text was composed on specialized keyboards at box-shaped computer screens. Reporters and editors in Washington DC, or at other branches, could type, submit, and edit stories directly to a shared database. In addition to proofreading, editors could insert instructions according to the computer’s parameters on column sizing and length. With the push of a button the text was transmitted to a phototypesetting machine for printing. 

A color photograph of a large composing room with several rows of long composing desks. Each segment of the desks have large, uncut papers with newspaper designs on them. In the background there are people scattered across these rows, working at the composing desks.

Paste-up in the composing room.

Photocomposition permitted the printing of type on photographic paper as an image. Photo-sensitive paper, film, or plates were used to capture page text, images, and other elements by exposing the page to bright light.

The page elements then moved to the compositors, who combined them in a process known as paste-up.

A color photograph of a composing desk with several items laid on it including papers, a line gauge, roller for wax paper, two pairs of scissors, and a knife with a retractable blade.

Printers used various tools to paste-up pages; a line gauge, roller for wax paper, scissors, and exacto-knife.

The workers employed in paste-up were also known as compositors. They worked at large angled desks arranged in rows in the composing room at The Washington Post

A color photograph of two fair skinned men between middle age and older age as they smile faintly at the camera. One man with gray hair wears an orange short sleeved collared shirt; his hands hold onto his glasses as he props himself up on the table. The other man has brown hair and a mustache; he wears a striped short sleeved collared shirt and is sat at a table. The background reveals a workspace room with many shelves for storage as well as tables.

Deaf workers Steve Moore and Mike Golighltly working paste-up.

Compositors usually worked from an outline or template of the page contents provided by the newsroom. This was affixed to a clipboard above the workspace. As workers received the articles, headlines, graphics, and other components printed on photographic paper, they began the careful process of measuring, cutting, and laying out a page according to the template. Standards for paste-up were strictly maintained and while they often needed to work quickly, compositors were also required to work with precision.

A color photograph of a darker-skinned middle aged man as he sits at a composing desk, his hands resting on the sheets of paper scattered in front of him. He wears a red shirt and smiles faintly at the camera.

Deaf printer, Louis Edwards working paste-up on an advertisement.

A color photograph of a fair-skinned older man standing in a large room with his back to the camera. He wears a plaid shirt tucked into jeans and a baseball cap. He is holding a long black plate against a large, gray machine used for film output.

A worker applies a negative to the light board before laying an alumninum plate over it.

In the engraving room, the film negatives of each page were placed on the light board. A thin aluminum plate was overlaid on the negative. When exposed to bright light, the film image was etched onto the aluminum sheet. These sheets were then fastened to the cylinders of the printing press in the press room.

An image of an aluminum sheet printed with the front page of the newspaper

An aluminum press plate. The top and bottom of the metal plate was affixed to the press and inked, in a process known as off-set printing.

The change to cold type increased the speed and efficiency of news production. It expanded the creative control of the appearance and arrangement of stories for writers and editors. Unlike hot metal printing, which required the production of lead replacement slugs with each revision, phototypesetting streamlined the proofing process. With just a few keystrokes, text could be changed and reprinted. 

A color photograph of an older Asian man sitting at a desk table. He smiles for the picture and wears a plaid shirt tucked into jeans. On the desk is a large box-shaped computer monitor that displays a page of newspaper ads and a keyboard.

Seated at his desk, William Sugyiama uses a desktop computer to layout and edit a page of grocery ads.

The transition to computing technology included the adoption of PC based page design and printing. In the 1980s and 1990s, The Washington Post adopted pagination and Adobe Page Maker as printing tools. Many Deaf printers found themselves retraining on these programs as the traditional tools of printing fell into disuse.

A color photograph of a fair-skinned middle-aged man, seated at a computer work station. In front of him is a box-style desktop computer screen. Around him are stacks of papers. Beside the computer is an old TTY device.

At a computer workstation, Deaf printer Dick Moore uses a computer program to design and lay out a page of ads.

A color photograph of a fair skinned older man as he sits at a desk; he has brown hair, a mustache and glasses and he wears a striped, collared, button down shirt tucked into jeans. His hands rest on a large keyboard linked to a large, boxed computer monitor known as Raycomp. Behind him is a stand which hosts several newspaper clippings attached to it.

Deaf printer Bob Zekas uses Raycomp to design newspaper ads for groceries.

The use of word processors in the production of pages permitted the combination of graphics and text in one screen. The advertising department, known as Ad Control, was quick to utilize computerized approaches as these pages required precision and speed while also requiring a great deal of both text and images. Computerized printing eased the transmission of complete pages from the news room to the press room directly.

Changing Technology

In less than fifty years the practices of newspaper printing transformed. At one time a massive undertaking which employed hundreds of printers working in careful concert with reporters and pressmen to produce the daily paper, by the end of the twentieth century the people and tools at the Post were employed differently. The number of printers working in the composing room began to fall as the mechanical tools of typesetting were replaced by word processors and digital production. These changes were spurned by the continuous pressure in the newspaper industry for enhanced circulation, greater production speeds, and full-color digital graphics.

In this video, Jim Potter, Dick Moore, and Dave Herbold discuss the introduction of new printing technology at work.

Time: 1:59. Click to enable captions. Transcription here.

A scanned image of an article describing new technologies. The accompanying black and white photograph shows several white, middle aged men and a white woman, standing at a desk with a box-computer terminal.

An article describing the introduction of Ad Builder, featuring Penny Herbold.

As newspaper companies began to invest in new technologies and initiate the processes of converting the composing room, Union leaders pressed for greater protections for printers, often resisting the use of new technology in a bid to preserve jobs. At The Washington Post, the ITU bargained for a lifetime job guarantee for its printers, which assured their employment as the nature of work changed around them. In addition to this agreement, printers at the Post were given training at work in order to gain the skills needed for phototypesetting and computerized printing.

A color photograph of a small group of people sat at a long table, each with their own large, boxed computer monitor and keyboard with a mouse. On the closest end of the table is a fair skinned middle-aged woman; next to her are two fair-skinned middle-aged men; the other end of the table sits another fair-skinned middle-aged woman. All individuals are focused on typing on the computer.

Deaf employees, Bonnie Burney, Bob Zekas, Tom Zaremkba, and Janie Golightly, seated at computers for the typesetting training on video display terminals.

These transitions to new technologies and workspaces, were not easy for printers with decades of experience in hot metal printing. Some struggled with new keyboards and terminal screens, and others felt the loss of status more profoundly. While printing was, at the beginning of the twentieth century regarded as a specialized tradecraft, by the end of the century, their skills had become largely obsolete.

In this video, Penny Herbold recalls how some Deaf printers struggled with new printing technologies.

Time: 42 seconds. Click to enable captions. Transcription here.

The experience of Deaf printers suggests that the sense of loss and displacement expressed by many printers was profound. While hearing printers were unhappy with training on new technologies, Deaf printers experienced the added pressure of negotiating access to that training. The strategies implemented for disseminating information and training to Deaf printers relied heavily on some Deaf and hard of hearing workers serving as interpreters and trainers. As interpreters were not in widespread use at the start of this technological transition, access to information was continuously negotiated. These events further demonstrate how Deaf printers supported one another in maintaining work and obtaining information, but it also suggests a marginalization not experienced by hearing printers. The introduction of computer technologies threatened the job of all printers, but Deaf printers were further jeopardized by a lack of communication access.

In this video, Janie Golightly describes how hiring practices changed with new technologies.

Time: 43 seconds. Click to enable captions. Transcription here.

By the end of the twentieth century the system of employment of printers at the Post changed. The longstanding system of subs and regular workers ended and, while some subs were offered the opportunity for permanent employment, others were dismissed. The work in the composing room had become increasingly outmoded. While the job guarantee from the Post permitted printers to learn new trades in the paper and ensured their continued employment, they were made increasingly redundant.

In this video, Jan DeLap reflects on the changes to the industry and how it affected Deaf printers.

Time: 2:33. Click to enable captions. Transcription here.

For a list of sources used, see Works Consulted.

Technology and Tools