Taber re­counts the tech of a long ca­reer

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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.

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