From the 15th century to the 21st in the blink of an eye
After nearly 40 years, former Namoi Valley Independent newspaper owner, Rod Coe is washing the last ink stains from his fingers and heading out to the golf course.
The Gunnedah–based bi–weekly hired local boy Rod in 1971, fresh from a brief stint at the local meat works. The popular community newspaper needed an apprentice hand and machine compositor, allowing Rod to get out of his blooded boots and into an industry on the cusp of major changes.
'It began with typesetting and advertisement composition, and as the technology allowed, I became expert at scanning, Photoshop and page make–up' he said.
When Rod started, the Independent was still being put together using hot metal – a technique developed before Gutenberg's press changed everything in the 15th Century.
'We had three linotype machines and a Ludlow for headlines. Proofs were printed onto art paper and the pages cut and pasted. Pages were then photographed and the negatives used to make plates to be printed on three units of a Goss Community press.' In the mid–70s, everything changed. Phototypesetting arrived, and the stench and din of the old hot metal machines was consigned to memory.
'It turned out that this innovation was only a stepping stone. Journos still used typewriters and their copy was passed on to typesetters to retype on to tape which was "punched" in a code read by photon typesetters,' Rod said.
Enter the PC
'We then upgraded to compugraphic typesetting and the journos onto their first PCs. The stories were then formatted on two compugraphic integrators where you could see the type as it would be output,' he said.
The type was produced photographically in galleys, which were subsequently waxed and 'pasted up' on to page artwork.
'We eventually moved across to the postscript era with Apple Macs and an Agfa A3 imagesetter. This allowed us to introduce full page make–up, which could be output direct to film.'
Then the digital revolution
During this time, the Independent added two more Goss units to the press and an ECRM Mako computerto–plate machine – the last big upgrade.
All of these innovations happened quickly, saved hundreds of man hours and saw some jobs disappear forever.
Money to fund them came from a lot of contract printing. 'Coonabarabran Times, Barraba Gazette, Coonamble Times, Quirindi Advocate, North West Magazine, Tamworth Times, Muswellbrook Chronicle, Hunter Valley News, Armidale Independent , and Tamworth City Trader were some of the banners that rolled off the press.
'In 2001, three of my workmates, a previous employee and myself bought the Independent. For more than 10 years, we ran it successfully. Then the writing was on the wall,' Rod said. The shift towards online advertising and mail–out catalogues predicted a tough future for country papers. It was as swift as it was inevitable.
'We sold to Fairfax Newspapers in December 2011,' he said.
The Independent was a multiple award winner at the annual newspaper awards, culminating in winning the Australian Bi–weekly Newspaper of Australia Award. Editor at the time, Ron McLean, won numerous awards for his editorial and story writing.
'His leadership and involvement with the local community kept the Independent focused on its greatest strength – local content,' Rod said.
Work together, play together
A feature of the Independent's workplace was the comradeship born of shared purpose.
'We had a huge back bench where the collating of newspapers was done, where meetings were held and morning tea was enjoyed. After the paper was printed on Tuesdays and Thursdays, it became a tradition to sit down at this bench, have a quiet beer and mull over the day's publication.'
'This friendship continues to this day as current staff and previous employees meet at the local golf club every fortnight for a catch–up,' Rod said.
And on into the future
The Namoi Valley Independent still publishes 4,000 newspapers twice a week, loaded with stories from Gunnedah and the surrounding districts; but now it also boasts a considerable online presence.
Welcome to the 21st Century.