Sunday, August 2, 2009

The end of an era

It was the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new one Saturday evening at The Register Citizen. The pressroom guys, with a combined 151 years of experience at our newspaper, worked their last night amid a crowd of melancholy onlookers.

Starting this evening, we are printing our daily newspaper at our sister publication in New Haven, and there will be no need for local pressroom guys or a local mailroom crew. That’s two whole departments shutting down – all in the same night.

No longer will we share a bathroom at 1 a.m. with the ladies from the mailroom – it will be empty. The lunchroom will be quiet after 5 p.m. – the rest of us will just eat at our desks. Al from the mailroom, the tallest man I’ve ever seen, will no longer come and ask if we have any obituaries.

We will have no more discussions of the Yankee or Red Sox games with Tom in the CTP room, who has been with the company for 33 years, as we wait for the last page to go through the plate-making machine. And never again will we run outside in a frenzy yelling “stop the presses” for a late-breaking news story. (Not that we did that often anyway, but it’s nice to have the option).

As the staff gathered on Saturday to see the paper printed one last time, old-timers and those who had the day off showed up for a burger and soda and to say a quick farewell.

“It’s family,” said Bill, a company veteran of almost 20 years. “How can you walk away from family, you know?”

Some will stay on for a few more weeks to take care of what’s left of the machines. But it was still hard for Steve, a 15-year veteran, and Peter, who pushed the buttons for the first issue of The Register Citizen 36 years ago, to say goodbye to everyone else, and to the printing press.

“I printed the first issue here in April 1973,” said the pressroom foreman as he pushed the two buttons to start up the press one final time. “Now I’m printing the last.”

Shutting down pressrooms is a common theme among newspapers today. To increase efficiency, printing facilities are combined or the products are outsourced. There just aren’t enough products to keep a printing crew busy in every town, and newer and better-equipped presses can print newspapers in half the time for much less money.

The Meriden Record-Journal, for example, shut down its press earlier this year, cutting 17 full-time jobs and dropping 28 part-time positions. Despite being printed in Springfield, Mass., they are expecting earlier delivery times and better color quality on their pages.

In The Register Citizen, the color pages are also expected to improve. Not only will the pages look better, but we will have more color positions a daily basis, sprucing up the look of the product. Getting the paper from New Haven to Torrington and out to subscribers is not expected to be a problem, and the newsroom will continue to do its best to provide readers with as much up-to-date information as possible.

So the finished product is supposed to remain the same, or perhaps a bit improved. But some things will be different. Several people we know and have worked with for many years will no longer be a part of what we do.

Donnie, who brought his daughter to watch the last press run, started at The Register Citizen 12 years ago. Mark, who delivered newspapers as a boy, later spent 27 years on the press. Jeff, who’s just worked here for about a year, and Kevin, with eight years behind him, are both hoping they will find something else to do. They all have families to support.

And the rest of us, the ones who remain, we just count ourselves lucky that people are still reading newspapers – whether it be online or at the breakfast table with their morning coffee. As long as people want to read what we have to offer, the advertisers will hopefully keep using us as a means to reach their consumers. And so life goes on for another few months, at least, at The Register Citizen in Torrington.

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