Newspapers have changed a lot in the past decade

January 25, 2004|by BILL KOHLER

As I was dusting off my 1980s "Hail to the Redskins" championship videos, sweaters and polo shirts last week, I wondered - How could Joe Gibbs come back after a 12-year layoff and coach professional football?

Things haven't changed that much, have they?

Professional football players for the most part are as overpaid and self-righteous as they were in 1992, when Gibbs last coached the Washington Redskins.

The object of the game remains to outscore the opponent and win the game - and Gibbs did that at a nearly 70 percent clip for a dozen years.

The basics remain the same - throw, run, tackle and kick.

Yeah, Gibbs is no spring chicken, but look at the success of guys like Dick Vermeil and Bill Parcells. Not exactly fresh out of the college ranks.


Then I got to thinking about a corollary. Things may not have changed much in football or other entertainment-based fields over the past 12 years, but they sure have in the business world.

And newspapers are no exception.

Like sports, the basics are still the same.

Facts, accuracy, fairness and timeliness are our bread and butter.

That's where the separation begins.

Newspapers - in an effort to make themselves more vital in a world flooded with media outlets - have revolutionized their ways of doing business in the past 10 years.

And hopefully, we're doing it better.

A few examples:

  • Twelve years ago - even five years ago, many daily newspapers were still doing the cut-and-paste method. Editors would lay out the stories and art on an 8 1/2-by-11 piece of paper, called a dummy sheet, and send the sheet and stories on paper to a composition person. That person would compose the page as directed by the dummy sheet and cut and wax all the stories, headlines and photos onto a regular-size page.

    Once checked and OK'd, the page would then be converted into negative and then burned onto a steel plate for the press.

    Now, the pages are composed on a computer and sent directly to a negative. An entire process is skipped, reducing a great cost and hopefully eliminating errors.

    Some papers send a final page directly to a steel plate, reducing another step in the process.

  • Newspapers of all sizes are part of the digital revolution. Film is used rarely at most newspapers. The Herald-Mail has been all-digital for more than four years, our photo chief, Kevin Gilbert, said.

    The photo system is all electronic. Editors get printouts of the photos, but the actual print never leaves the computer and is placed onto the page in the design process.

    Digital photography saves time and money in that photographers know in seconds whether they have the right shot, there's no film to develop and all the adjustments can be made right on the computer.

  • Unquestionably, one of the most monumental advances in our news gathering process over the past six years has been the use of e-mail and the Internet.

    E-mail opens up a paperless communication line with numerous sources, agencies, staff members and readers. Through e-mail, reporters in our bureaus can take a picture, say, at a fire in Scotland, Pa., about 35 miles from the Hagerstown office, and e-mail it right into an editor's computer for use in the paper.

    E-mail also is vital if our regular system of sending stories from the bureaus goes down or is being used by another reporter.

    This was unthinkable before digital photography and e-mail.

    The Internet has become a valuable research tool for reporters and editors in the past 10 years.

    Is Britney Spears spelled with one "t" or two "t"s?

    Check the Web.

    Need some background on a company that's considering relocating to Berkeley County, W.Va.?

    Check the Web.

    What about the history of dairy farming in Franklin County, Pa.?

    You get the idea.

    Obviously, we use the Internet cautiously and not as an official source, but instant access to information at our fingertips is a luxury not found in newsrooms 10 years ago. The Web has paid off in numerous ways over the years.

  • Last but not least, newspapers seem to be taking the reader more seriously. From what I've read in trade magazines and seen at my employers past and present, papers are investing time and money into customer service, surveys and actual face-to-face communication with readers.

This is what will keep newspapers relevant and vital well after you, me and Joe Gibbs are long gone.

That's a breakthrough that all of us can be excited about.

Bill Kohler is Tri-State Editor of The Morning Herald. You may reach him at 800-626-6397, ext. 2023, or by e-mail at

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