Taber recounts the tech of a long career
Al Taber will retire at the end of the year after working in newspaper operations and as a trusted vendor for over 40 years. After reaching a milestone of 80 years, Taber takes a minute to reflect on the innovations he saw in the industry.
N&T: What changes have you seen in the industry during your tenure?
Taber: I started selling newspapers on a street corner in St. Petersburg, Florida, for five cents a copy and was paid two cents per paper sold. Throughout my career, I worked on all the technology necessary to put out a paper. During that time I’ve noticed at least three major changes in the production side of newspapers. The first was conversion to cold type, then to offset printing, and then into digitalization, which gave us pagination (elimination of the page makeup department), computer to plate, cheap 4-color process, and massive amount of preprinted inserts.
The major metropolitan newspapers gave up their news franchise to radio, television and the internet. Smaller markets that had served their readers with the local news have survived, but they are no longer as lucrative as they once were. The fact is that the smaller publications were family owned and when no one in the family wanted to carry on and inheritance taxes, they were sold off to groups. A book could be written about all of the missteps the newspaper industry has taken over the last 50- 60 years.
N&T: What are some of your biggest highlights over those 40+ years?
Taber: While working at The DeKalb New Era, I came up with the idea for “direct printing” (the name Goss called the process). In 1964 Henry Cobb and I produced the first process color printing using the direct printing process on a 2-unit Goss Community. It was truly a breakthrough, allowing small newspapers to produce three- or four-color process advertising and photographs. When computer-generated process color became available for small daily and weekly newspapers, they started to really produce a lot of process color by this method and still do. When the 4-high stacked units became available, many users added the 4-high to their press. ... The need for direct print was significantly diminished.
I printed the first offset copies of The Wall Street Journal in their offices in South Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1966 on a Goss Community.
N&T: What is the biggest change you’ve noticed in print production?
Taber: In my opinion the most significant change in the manufacturing of the newspaper product was the conversion to cold type. The main driver to cold type was the small weekly newspaper. They were the training ground for Linotype operators, but unfortunately once the individual learned the skill they were drawn away with higher wages at larger newspapers. The Friden Just-O-Writer was one of the starters of the changeover, but the real blockbuster product came from Compugraphics with their photo typesetting design. They’re the only manufacturer I’ve ever seen in our industry that lowered the price of machines sometimes within the first year of delivery. Later high-speed phototypesetters made it possible for larger newspapers to convert to cold type.
An interesting note to the conversion to cold type is it gave women a real opportunity into the production side of newspaper. The advent of the aluminum plate in the pressroom allowed that area to also begin employing women. Inserting opened up another area to women. All of these opportunities gave women a path to progress into management and senior management in the newspaper structure.
N&T: Any final thoughts concerning the newspaper industry?
Taber: I have worked with the finest people a person could ever ask to be with. What a ride.