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Reflections on 52 years as an ink-stained wretch

I’ve loved newspapers as long as I can remember. Always read all the comics, every day, even the ones I didn’t particularly like. And I always enjoyed the editorial page, even if I didn’t agree with the opinions expressed there.

So it was probably preordained that I would start my working life as a paperboy at the age of 12 — delivering the Mail Tribune. In those days — OK, 1970, but who’s counting — the MT was a six-day paper, delivered in the afternoon on weekdays and early on Sunday mornings.

I met the lad whose route I was to take over at his house to start learning the ropes, and he told me a van driver would drop his bundle of Sunday papers in his driveway by 2 a.m. So, being young, eager to please and just a bit naive, I showed up then, not realizing he wouldn’t emerge until 5 or so. Not wanting to disturb anyone, I didn’t knock on the door. I just waited. My concerned parents were sure I had been hit by a car when I didn’t get home until nearly 7.

Things got better after that.

I would deliver that route for a year or so, then move to a bigger route that included the street I lived on. It was a great after-school gig that I kept for four years. As I got older, it became a game between my best friend and me to see how fast we could deliver my 90 papers so we could get some recreation in before dinner time. I seem to recall we got it down to around 20 minutes, although I might be exaggerating.

I had no idea at the time that I would return to Medford with my wife and young children two decades later to take a job as a Mail Tribune reporter. My district manager when I was a carrier was still working here.

The paper had just added a Saturday edition to make it a six-day daily, but it was still primarily an afternoon paper — known as a “p.m.” in the business. That would change in 1995, when the Tribune moved to a morning paper seven days a week.

Early mornings proved too much of a challenge for many young carriers, so small bicycle or walking routes were gradually combined and converted to motor routes, taken over by adults looking for some extra income.

The newsroom back then was already computerized — reporters wrote and editors edited on video display terminals — but the copy was sent to typesetting machines in the composing room where the articles came out on shiny paper, which was waxed, trimmed and pasted up on page-sized sheets, then photographed with a large camera. The negatives from those photographs were carried to the pressroom, where the images were transferred to metal plates, which were attached to the press rollers to print the newspaper.

By the late 1990s, that process was accomplished entirely on computers, with the “paste-up” occurring on the screen, eliminating the composing room staff. Later still, a direct-to-plate system was installed, skipping one more step in the production process. Along the way, the growth of the internet as a way of disseminating information was a sign that one day, printed newspapers would be a thing of the past.

That day has come for the Mail Tribune. Today’s paper is the last to roll off the press and be delivered to subscribers’ homes.

For those who came of age before the internet, and especially for those of us who made a career in the daily newspaper industry, it’s a bittersweet day. There is nothing quite like the roar of a web offset press at full speed, emitting freshly printed and folded newspapers in a steady stream. And nothing quite like sitting down with the morning paper and a cup of coffee.

But the good news — pun intended — is that the work we do in the Mail Tribune newsroom really hasn’t changed. We still track down stories, interview news-makers and craft stories that tell you, the reader, what is happening in your community. We present the news — and commentary on the opinion pages — to help you make sense of the events of the day. You just get it electronically, rather than on paper.

We’ll keep doing what we do. We hope you will continue to rely on us to keep you informed.

Reach Editorial Page Editor Gary Nelson at gnelson@rosebudmedia.com.