Our Century

New technology in Newspapers

Gerry Anderson 1934-95

Gerry Anderson

"The transition from hot metal to cold technology in the newspaper world was more than what cosmologists like to call a quantum leap'.

"Certainly in production terms it was that, but for journalists and composing room staff it was something akin to major surgery of the soul. It was like waking up to discover that a magic you had not previously given full credit had walked out on you, and all the old familiar sounds had been replaced by a clinical, sterile silence.

"The theatre of war had become a laboratory, and old hands looked at new contraptions with a startlement and panic that was practically tangible and most certainly infectious. What added to the alarm was the fact that this package came with its own language, not a word of which anyone spoke. What could we make of this?

"Well, in terms of efficiency, speed and scope, today's technology leaves yesterday's craft standing, as a liner does a square-rigger, and that is an apt analogy when assessing the transition. Unfortunately, many of the caballistic customs and exercise have gone forever, and even the titles of the craftsmen no longer exist. Gone are the stonehands, the compositors, the linotype operators; gone is that old custom of banging out, when a retiring craftsman walked the length of the composing room with tears in his eyes while his colleagues hammered with anything metal upon anything metal; gone is the urgency of stone-subbing, when that traditional battle between sub and stonehand was fought out at ten-minute intervals, with a three-foot table of solid steel to keep them from each others' throats; enemies with the greatest respect for each other, when the paper was eventually put to bed.

"Not even the telephones sound the same. They trill now, when previously they jangled raucously amid the clatter of typewriters, the shouts of "Copy!" the fug of newsroom smoke, and in the background the constant gossip of chattering Linotypes."