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The evolution of newspaper technology

From the press to cyberspace

Staff Reporter

Published: Monday, December 2, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 01:12


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Since the dawn of time, people have always strived for better ways to communicate. We’ve transformed speech into symbols, symbols into sequences, sequences into language and language into culture.

According to Shannon E. Martin and David A. Copeland, authors of “The Function of Newspapers in Society: A Global Perspective,” newspapers have always been the primary medium of journalists.

The technology behind print media has gone through many changes; from handwritten drafts to processing lines of code into letters, the changes are staggering.

Before the invention of the Gutenberg Press in the mid-15th century, businessmen made handwritten news pamphlets and delivered them to other merchants to keep up with the latest trade information, according to Thomas Schroeder in “The Origins of the German Press.”

The invention of letterpress printing changed everything however. Invented by Johannes Gutenburg, the “Gutenberg Press” allowed printers to compose and lock movable type into the bed of a press, ink the type, then press paper against it to transfer the inked type onto the paper.

While letterpress was the standard for several hundred years, another machine similar to the letterpress set the standard for newspapers as well: the linotype machine.

The linotype machine is the letterpress’s cousin. Invented by Ottmar Mergenthaler in 1884, it was the first machine that could efficiently set complete lines of type for printing presses. The machine’s name comes from the fact that it produces an entire line of metal type at once, hence “line of type”.

The linotype and the letterpress together were the standard in printing newspapers for several hundred years until the second half of the 20th century, when the offset printing process was introduced.

Offset printing is the current process used to “economically produce large volumes of high quality prints in a manner that requires little maintenance,” according to Helmut Kipphan, author of “Handbook of print media: technologies and production methods”.

The technique involves the ink image (“offset”) being transferred from a plate to a rubber blanket, and then to the printing surface.

The invention of the modern day offset printing process came about in an offbeat manner.

According to Nicole Howard, author of “The book, the life story of a technology,” in 1901 Ira Washington Rubel accidentally forgot to load a sheet into the lithograph and discovered that when printing from the rubber roller instead of metal, the printed page was of better quality.

Rubel’s press was produced by the Potter Press printing company in New York in 1903, and was in use in San Francisco by 1907, according to HistoryWired’s “Rubel Offset Lithographic Press.” Offset printing is still used to mass produce newspapers today.

The technological advances of print media over the past few hundred centuries have had a massive affect on how people read news; but blogging, the latest form of media, is taking a step further and blurring with the mass media.

According to Rebecca Blood, author of “Weblogs: A History And Perspective,” a blog is a discussion or informational site published on the World Wide Web. It’s a special form of media in that doesn’t take a physical form since it’s all done online.

There are several types of blogs, which differ in not only what the content is, but how they’re delivered.

Personal blogs are the common ones many people read or hear about. They’re usually an ongoing journal/diary written by an individual.

Microblogging consists of small posts of media content such as photos, videos, kinks, or text. The most notable examples are Twitter and Facebook.

Vlogs are blogs consisting of videos, such as the Green brothers’ Nerd Fighter series on YouTube.

Even in mass media, blogging has been gaining a lot of attention. One of the first blogs used on a news site was in August 1998, when the Charlotte Observer’s Jonathan Dube published his blog over the events of Hurricane Bonnie.

In 2006, Time magazine recognized bloggers by naming their person of the year as “You.”

The evolution of media has taken many forms. From paper space, to type space, to cyberspace, the forms have changed dramatically over the past 500 years. 

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