A Day at the Sherbrooke Record
By Manfried and Nancy Helmuth Starhemberg
When art lovers view a great painting, they are mostly interested in the visual, the sensual impact of the work. They might appreciate the intricate brush strokes or the texture of oil on canvas. Most also notice the frame, many just admire the frame. Very few know how those pieces were created, what inspired them, what made them last as valuable clues of the specific time in which the artist worked.
Newspapers are not often looked at as great art but they share many characteristics with the best creations of man: The written word remains forever, as a testament of a day, a month, a year, of human activity. It becomes the basis of research for future historians and it informs its readers daily. It also entertains, or, sadly, remembers our loved ones.
Just like a painting, a newspaper has to be built of a solid canvas. To explore the transformation of a blank canvas into a vibrant daily newspaper, my wife Nancy and I were given permission to spend a day at the Sherbrooke Record.
"The number of pages are mostly pre determined" explains news editor Daniel Coloumbe "this will dictate what we can do with the paper every day. We do have a general guideline what is on which page and this is pretty well planned ahead". This then fixes the canvas upon the easel. Next is the underpainting: Pre allocated spaces such as the masthead, the crossword puzzle page, fixed weekly advertisements, the editorial and sports pages have their spot and page three is reserved for the local fires, accidents and break ins. Now you have the beginning of what artists would call the outline or the sketch which would normally on a canvas be drawn in charcoal as it can be erased and modified.
A newspaper has to be equally flexible and the editorial staff has to interact with the advertising department to create a delicate balance of news and commerce, the priority of breaking story versus a late phoned-in advertisement which may just have to wait for a day to appear.
JoAnn Hovey has been director of advertising for 27 years and she has this balance well in hand.
From JoAnne the ads go to the production department where the copy is built into the final form. The design of an effective advertisement is the keystone to repeat business and customer satisfaction. Every bit of energy goes into this stage of the daily work, as would be expended on that "perfect editorial". A newspaper can only be profitable if it achieves a balance of quality content and billable space.
Next to JoAnn is Michel on the phone to clients and I admire his elegent delivery as he soothes and advises, the phone seemingly at his ear the whole time we spent at the office.
"When Publisher Sharon McCully invited me on board to edit the paper some 6 months ago, she charged me with one important thing and that is to make this newspaper as community oriented as possible" tells Daniel,"People have access to the international news from a variety of sources but if things happen locally, they must have the information that only a local newspaper can provide".
The paper has made great efforts lately to reach target areas outside the traditional locations in the Eastern Townships. It is now widely read in Sutton and Knowlton, Dunham, Bromont, Mansonville and Abercorn and Potton. "Local contributors have been given space to showcase their hometowns and this will enhance the fabric of our locally oriented coverage" states Coloumbe.
Daniel Coloumbe is also a local radio host and is normally on air for two hours in the early morning before he begins his day at the Record. He is assisted by veteran journalist Steven Blake as correspondence editor, Doug McCooey and Corinna Pole who tells me that she spends most of her day on the telephone. She is the reporter and has the sometimes harrowing task to dig into the small news stories often overlooked.
At about three in the afternoon,Josee arrives. It is her task to do the final pagination. She adds the pictures to the pages, checks compatibility of color pictures to the black and white final product, after which she does all the final placement and checks each page before creating copies that are delivered to the press room.This is tedious work, as any mistake made at this point is irreversible. This is the varnish that fixes the painting!
To "frame" our work of art" is all up to the pressroom. "We are so privileged to have our own press" explaints Daniel, "we print in- house, thus if there is a need, we can increase the number of pages or the number of the press run as needed. We even print our other publications, the Brome County News and the Townships Outlet right here. And as a job press, the Newport Vt. paper is also printed by the Record staff. For almost 29 years senior pressman Serge Gagnon has presided over the production of the printed work. He is now assisted by pressmen Stephen Young and by his son Michael.
The first step of Gagnon's work is to photograph the finalised pages, mount the negatives in the appropriate order so that opposing pages will roll of the press in the correct order. After this, Michal "burns" the negatives onto aluminum plates which are mounted on the rollers and are the matrix of the final impression. This is exacting work .
Stephen Young meanwhile readies the paper on the press and inks this huge machine. Black is pumped in hydraulically but the colors like magenta or cyan are applied with spatulas by hand. Stephen also removes yesterday's plates from the rollers. These will be recycled. When Serge and Michael deliver the new plates, it is time to mount them, which is at best a contortionist act with much acrobatics on top or under the machine.Serge helps and it is a ballet to watch this process.
After everything is checked out at least twice by Serge and Stephen, Serge rings an alarm bell and the machine comes to live, at first chuggung and huffing like a big old steam engine getting her grip on an icy track but soon the first papers fly by to be folded and collated. Michael throws out a few hundred at first, as the color is being adjusted. We watched the printing of the Brome County News and in the beginning there was a bit too much red in the color. Finally satisfied, Serge increases the speed and the papers rush out in a steady stream. What a sight and sound!
With the press run of the Brome County News completed, the three masters of the black art begin the circle again by photographing next day's pages of the Sherbrooke Record which will start its production run about an hour after the pages are in Serge's remarkably clean hands, but Stephen is busy again with paper and ink. The three men handle the 900 lb. rolls of paper by hand and block and tackle, a daunting task when one sees the immense rolls stored here. In order to remove one from the top of the stack, a huge "claw" attached to the heavy duty forklift is used, but once on the ground, it is "manual only".
While all this is going on, Laurie, in the office, which she presides over as business manager, writes checks and orders things and tends to all the financial afairs that will make it possible for all these dedicated people to return in the morning to start it all over again, as have their predecessors at the Sherbrooke Record for more than 114 years. It is fitting to observe that the international newspaper association names this year the 400th anniversary since the advent of the first recognized newspaper. The Record has been part of this for more than a quarter of that time!
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Time to go home, I hold the first copy of the BCN in hand and Nancy is relaxing in the office. Thank you all!