Opinion Columns & Blogs

We're stopping the (in-house) press

It was big, it was black, it was noisy. It was oily, it was stinky, it was old. But day after day it lumbered along, cranking out paper after paper for thousands of people hungry for news of their community.

That's my memory of The Bee's press when I started at the paper in the summer of 1970.

At that time the press was nearly 50 years old. It had been built in the 1920s for the New York Graphic; when that paper folded, the press was purchased by The Sacramento Bee, which used it until it was sent south to become The Modesto Bee's "new" press in 1951.

Twenty-one years later, in 1972, we got another "new" press in Modesto, when our sister Bee in Fresno handed down its 10-year-old Hoe Colomatic press. And while it was a step up from what we had, it, too, was inky and stinky.

Still, it was exciting to go to the back of The Bee and pull a freshly printed paper off that old Hoe. I learned pretty quickly, though, that the oil-based ink of that era was hard to get out of your clothes, even with an extra scrubbing with Boraxo or Lava. And after waking up one morning to find black shoe prints on our family room carpet, I learned to take off my shoes before I set foot in the house.

Sixteen years later, in 1988, we got our first truly new press. And, oh my goodness, what a change we -- and our readers -- saw. Not only were the photos sharper and the colors brighter, but the state-of-the-art Goss Flexo press used a water-based ink that didn't rub off on you, your clothes, your furniture or anything else.

Even the best of things end, and so it is with our press. After 20 years of service, we've printed our final papers -- including the one you hold -- on the Goss Flexo.

Later today, after we've reported and written our stories, taken our photos, placed the ads, and designed and edited the pages, we'll transmit our day's work electronically to The Sacramento Bee, where it will be printed and then trucked down Highway 99 for delivery.

The paper you get tomorrow morning will have been printed on a Goss Metroliner offset press that is bigger and faster and has three times the color capacity as the flexographic process we've used. And the soy-based ink we'll be using, while it does have a slight rub-off, is environmentally friendly.

While this move makes business sense, and while the new press will give us more capacity, color and flexibility -- without any significant loss in deadlines or delivery -- still, I'm going to miss having The Modesto Bee printed in Modesto.

I'm going to miss standing in the hallway and feeling the slight vibration that tells me either I'm having a stroke or the press is running. I'm going to miss being able to go back and pull a freshly printed paper off the press. I'm going to miss being able to yell "stop the presses," although I've only done that a handful of times during my career, and even then it was always by phone.

Most of all, though, I'm going to miss the men and women in our press and packaging rooms; even though we work different hours and in different parts of the building, I consider them my friends and allies. And I've always been aware and appreciative of the fact that all the work we do in the newsroom -- and other parts of the building -- would be for naught without them and what they do.

For most of those talented and dedicated people, their careers with The Bee came to a close in the pre-dawn hours this morning, after the final paper had come off the press, the final ad had been inserted, and the final bundle had been sent down the chute to be delivered to more than 80,000 homes and businesses.

Who knows, maybe the paper in your hands was that final paper.

And who knows, maybe the one you hold tomorrow morning will be the very first paper printed in Sacramento.

One thing's for sure: Whether it's printed down here or up there, the paper you're holding is and always will be The Modesto Bee.

And, we thank you for reading it!

Mark S. Vasché, editor and senior vice president, can be reached at 578-2351 or mvasche@modbee.com.