In Praise of News Print

The paper version of today’s New York Times came with a lovely insert, “The Daily Miracle,” a photo essay on the paper’s printing plant in College Point, Queens. The pictures are by Christopher Payne who has previously documented the making of a Steinway, as well as architectural and industrial topics, and has an eye for process monumental yet personal.

He captures the immense challenge of turning out a daily paper, one particularly resonant now that the materiality of the newspaper has given way to digital, pixels replacing ink, for many if not most. As somebody who makes a living pushing pixels, the physical newspaper seems ever more to to be a pinnacle of a certain kind human activity–of organization, craft, industry, know how, (and this isn’t just my growing up around them as the child of newspaper writers and journalism teachers. Luc Sante captures some of this in his graceful intro essay to the photographs,

The “new”New York Times bldg, c. 1888.

And then you can hold it in your hand, fold it, tear it, use it as a rain hat–a voluminous paper object with visual dazzle and hundreds of thousands of words representing the collected information of that moment: news, opinion, analysis, testimony, critique, charts, graphs, photos, displays. And it happens every day over and over again. Small wonder they call it “The Daily Miracle.”

Luc Sante

The photos aren’t online yet reasonably enough (although I’m betting they will be). So you will have to find a copy of Sunday’s paper. But there is a little info about the series here, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/24/reader-center/printing-plant-section-christopher-payne.html .

In the midst of getting sentimental about all things newsprint, I remembered the best printing joke, “What does the sign say in the NYTimes’ compositing room? All the news that fits, we print.”


Also worth noting: March 24 is Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s 100th birthday. He was a grand old man of beat poetry when I was a teenager, and that he is still around–as is his landmark North Beach store, City Lights Books–is enormously reassuring. Barry Mills has an essay worth reading up at Poetry Foundation. To Lawrence, in addition to wishing him the happiest of birthdays, I offer this quote from George Burns, another long-lived good guy, “If you live to be one hundred, you’ve got it made. Very few people die past that age.”

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