In 1955, two curiousÂ Optimist freshman volunteers entered the university’s print shop where the school newspaper went to press to check on its progress. The door was open, but the pressman was across the street taking a break.
The students spied a large Linotype machine in the room, and began to examine it. One of the inquisitive freshman saw a small lever on the machine and pulled it just to see what would happen. The lever turned out to be a release button that unleashed hundreds of tiny metal font matrices all over the room.
The two made a quick escape, and Charlie Marler (’55), who was serving as Optimist editor, visited the print shop later in the day to discoverÂ an extremely upset pressman.
“I consider this the biggest technological fluke I was involved in during my time on staff,” Marler, who later served as faculty adviser to the paper and now professor emeritus, said.Â “Everybody received orders to stay away from the print shop after that.”
Before the days of InDesign, Wi-Fi and another technological conveniences, production ofÂ the Optimist was a long and tedious process. From massive typewriters to relying on pressmen and printing presses, the road to today’s technology has been paved with a few bumps here and there.Â Technology in news writing and newspaper printing and production has drastically changed over the years. Each technological innovation changed what it meant to produce the Optimist.
In publication since 1912, the paper has seen innovation after innovation – and has been published using just about every technology in existence since Gutenberg’s printing press of 1450.
The terms used in publishing before the introduction of widespread personal computers sound like they come straight out of a science experiment.Â Writing stories on clunky typewriters, organizing pages with sharp X-acto blades and Â hot wax and developing images in darkrooms with potent chemicals are enough to make today’s journalists drop their MacBooks in shock.
Some modernÂ Optimist staffers said it is hard to grasp a time where copy-and-pasting meant literally copying and pasting.Â Jessica Smith (’02), Optimist editor from 2000-2002,Â said seeing the foreign objects of design and paste-up made her realize the huge difference between the way things were done then and now.
When she became editor, “I threw out boxes of border tape, X-acto knives, dried-out cans of rubber cement, proportion wheels, and things that looked like medieval torture devices,” she said.
“Professors explained the purposes these things used to have in newspaper production. I had never known a world without desktop publishing,” Smith said.
Several past staff members would agree.
“Wax boards, pasting, chemicals, my brain can’t follow. Things are so different now,” Linda Bailey (’11), Optimist editor in 2010-11, said.
Ron Hadfield (’79), 1977-79 editor, said he remembers one process in particular.
“Whatever we wanted to affix to the layout pages had to be run through a waxer that applied pressure-sensitive hot wax to the back of the document. We bought wax in bulk and melted it in the machine,” Hadfield said. “You could really scald yourself if you splashed it on exposed skin, and it ruined any clothing on which it landed.”
If scalding wax was not frightening enough, how about sharp X-acto knives? Another daunting task of publication was cutting out the pieces before they could be waxed. Sliced fingers and glue covered hands were evidence of the dedication and time the staff was willing to contribute to the Optimist.
Over the years, technology has changed, andÂ the Optimist has striven to keep up with it. The most recent technological advancement isÂ the Optimist‘s iPad availability.
A few swipes on an iPad and the Optimist is a fingertip away. The paper was the first collegiate student publication to be available on the Apple iPad. Bailey served on the iPad development team in 2009, and said she realized at the time how groundbreaking the efforts were.
“It was a process of creating an organized idea of what we wanted it to look like,” Bailey said. “We were so used to focusing on the the design that it was hard for us to remember the little things, like pictures and headlines.”
As the editor ofÂ the Optimist during the first full year of the iPad capabilities, Bailey said she has a special appreciation for the technology that is now available to the staff ofÂ the Optimist.
“Now with most of the student and faculty having iPhones, we don’t have to carry a notebook, camera and recorder. It can do all those things,” Bailey said. “Phones are more of a tool than I realize most of the time. I am so grateful having all the technology that I had. It was hard enough with all these tools.”
But former staffers say it is important to remember technology is not a replacement for good journalism. Linda Bailey said she had an experience where she became conscious that journalists should not rely solely on technology.
In 2010 she was in the middle of a phone interview on her cellphone when the electricity went out. The screen on her desktop computer went black. Her journalism instincts took over. She snatched up the closest notepad and pen and continued the interview as she began to look for a reason for the random power outage. She grabbed her laptop only to realize the Internet would not work without the electricity. She finished the interview and realized a story needed to be on the website to inform people about the power outage. She remembered her smartphone, accessed the website, typed up the story and uploaded it to the site. Despite the power outage, she succeeded in continuing to bring the news without a hitch. This would not have been possible as little as ten years ago.
“This is when I learned how much I appreciate the resources we use, not only to make the paper but to get the stories done,” Bailey said.
Marler said he agrees advancements in technology assistÂ theÂ Optimist’s mission but will never change its commitment to being a comprehensive news source.
“Currently the Optimist and JMC Network have the capabilities of bringing breaking news to the hands of students,” Marler said. “Immediacy is possible now.”