Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Story About a Newspaper:

The death of a newspaper, a comedy in three acts

By Manfried Rieder Starhemberg
Act 1:
The above could have been one of the frontispieces in my old friend's early editions. At age 82, he finally (or temporarily, the jury is still out on this) closed his small newspaper in Colorado and to honor his request, I shall not give his name or the town in which he published. Actually, when the strikers returned to work, his father owned the paper. My friend only took it over on September 20, 1951.
The paper had its heyday when mining was Colorado's biggest industry and the early editions were full of exuberance, advertisements of new mines, want ads, announcements of operatic events in Golden, Colorado, editorials about huge ore finds, a claims register and hundreds of assayers and banks begging for business.
Then the mines started to close and the ads dwindled. Then came the great depression. "We could not get newsprint, not that it was not available, but my father's bank was bankrupt and the paper company did not honor our drafts. We had to drive our old truck clear to Denver and pay cash to the big dailies to buy a couple of rolls of paper. The same with ink. You do that in an unheated vehicle in Colorado in those days was quite a challenge and the ink was frozen solid by the time we got to the unheated printing room".
But they prevailed and after the "old man" died, my friend assumed control. "This is one large war and fairly prosperous years later, with all the war bond advertisements, recruitment posters to be printed and then the great golden years of the survivors coming home, industry picking up and houses to be built and :'a chicken in every pot and a road to every house', the Eisenhower years fed everyone for a while, including our little paper which then had a circulation (paid) of about 8,000".

Act 2:
Business  went down from there. When I first met this gentleman, I was in the air force academy in Colorado in 1973, and, as a newspaper man, I asked for part time work everywhere, from Longmont to Boulder, Denver and Aspen, Larchmont and Creely. My friend gave me work. I was to write, do my own typesetting and then help run the press. But, oh joy, he put me on the impressum as "associate editor". At that time we were down to 750 copies of eight pages every week while the local shopper, the Boulder Grapevine had a circulation of 12,000, the Boulder Daily Camera about 40,000 and I don't even wish to remember the number of papers the Denver papers put out. But we stodgily put out our little labor of love every week.
We did have a good advertising to cost ratio, since I earned $ 50.- per week and my friend paid himself $ 175.- as publisher, this was well offset by the Twin Light Inn's $ 40.-/week advertisement of the Friday night specials, we had Burt from the used car store take a $ 150.- ad every week for his great offerings (I purchased a mint 1962 Mercury from him for $ 200.- and my wife got a 1956 Cadillac Sedan de-Ville for $ 300.-)
The local golf course also advertised, as did the pharmacy and the feed store, because most of our loyal readers were the elderly farmers of the area. In the early sixties my friend had replaced the old sheet fed press with a used 60 year old Heidelberg rotary. This was a bitch of a piece of equipment because we had an unheated printing room and so, we had to take a kerosene heater to it about five hours before start up and then we literally used torches to heat up bearings and the rollers, while a couple of volunteers were climbing all over the thing with hair dryers to warm up the rubber rollers. When it ran however, the old girl sang and we hardly ever had a paper rip or problems with ink flow. Of course we were only black ink, which eliminated all the color density problems.

I forgot: Our print was set by an old Linotype typesetting machine, was hand mounted on steel trays, proofed upside down (we old masters of the black art cherish this and the associated smell...) and then the maten was pressed into a plastic matrix which was affixed to the rollers. Rotogravure was used for pictures, plastic sheets, etched by an expensive machine which created the moire, glued on wooden blocks etc. There are probably less than 100 people left who have experienced this form of printing. I loved it all, I used the big Ludlow headline maker to cast a slug of lead into one negative bar of headline.

Act three:
Sadly, the Air Force decided that I was more useful elsewhere and my wife and I and our first child began our diaspora which carried us from bases in Texas, Nevada, California to New York and eventually, as an instructor, to Canada. But all these years and about 30 newspapers I have worked for part time later, I have kept in touch with my old friend in Colorado.He kept on publishing and lately he was down to 80 copies every week. The old Heidelberg press had been sold for scrap, he kept operating out of his barn, sheet feeding single sheets of newsprint and hand inking them. The local advertising was long gone and all the last issues he hand delivered in his 1954 Studebaker station wagon to his old friends, to the local library, to the  museum and the town hall. He would however put in advertisements for his friend, the gas station owner who would give him a bit of extra gas, and the diner where he had his breakfast ("take an extra coffee honey, you look tired"), or the grocery store, where the owner would tell him "No, you can't pay for this, it's just about at the due date and I don't want to throw it out".

"I am just taking a break right now" my friend explained. "This cold weather is not doing me any good but watch out, in spring I am good as new and I am going to open up again. I have a lot of stories I have not written yet and this is just a temporary suspension of the paper". To prove it, he faxed me the payment of his business registration for the next year.
Good luck old friend - continue "all the news that's fit to print"

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