The Ways Steve Jobs Changed This Newspaper
If you didn’t know who Steve Jobs was before his death late last week, you likely do now. The former CEO and founder of Apple has been the subject of worldwide news reports and eulogies, including Time Magazine stopping its presses and replacing the magazine’s cover with a photo of Jobs and adding a 21-page section about the life and times of the man who’s being called a modern day Thomas Edison.
By now you surely know that Jobs headed the company that debuted its easy to use Macintosh computer in 1984, the first with a mouse and a graphic interface where you clicked on icons to open programs which appeared in windows. There were earlier Apple computers, but it was the Mac that changed the way people perceived personal computers. Jobs’s creation revolutionized personal computing and ended the process of having to type long strings of commands to make a computer do what you wanted it to. In short, he made the process simple and fun.
You also surely know that Jobs changed the way we listen to and purchase music, the way we watch movies and TV shows, and the way we read books, newspapers and magazines with his iPods, iPhones and iPads. Apple’s iTunes Music store, which didn’t exist until 2003, recently tallied its 16-billionth download and is the world’s leading music store.
But you likely don’t know how Steve Jobs dramatically changed the way we do things here at the Rocket-Courier. So let me take you back to the late 1980’s and the days before we used Apple computers to produce this newspaper.
Those were the days when every story in this newspaper was written on a typewriter and passed along to a typesetter who retyped the story on a machine called an Editwriter, which output articles on photographic paper.
The Editwriter was driven by a computer that was likely way less powerful than one of Steve Jobs’s iPads, yet it was about the size of a typical office desk. They were a marvel in their day and the two machines that we used cost about $14,000 each, if memory serves me correctly. The stories and ads produced by our Editwriters were eventually pasted onto layout pages and delivered to our printer for production.
Then everything changed.
Former Sugar Run resident Richard Loggins walked into our office one day and asked if he could give me a price for replacing our Editwriters with Mac computers. I was sure this would be a hugely expensive undertaking, but decided to see what Richard had to offer.
Richard wasn’t a Mac dealer, by the way. He made his money as a consultant, walking us through the transition from typewriters to computers. And it turned out I was wrong about the cost of saying farewell to our clunky Editwriters. I don’t remember the exact cost of bringing six Mac Plus computers and an Apple Laserwriter to our office, but I can tell you that the monthly payment to cover the bank loan I got to pay for the Macs was less than what we paid per month for chemicals and photographic paper for our Editwriters. It was a win-win deal.
And we began to save even more money and time once we became familiar with using our new Macs. For starters, stories were no longer written on a typewriter and then retyped on the Editwriter. Instead, the person who wrote the story produced a typeset version directly from his or her Mac. This saved huge amounts of time and allowed us to push our deadline back closer to when we went to press.
I must tell you that by today’s standards those early Macs were primitive. They came with just two megabytes of ram and had no hard drive. They booted from a floppy disc and since we were not networked in the early days, we had just one computer hooked to our laser printer, and that meant copying everything that had to be printed to a floppy, walking it to the computer hooked to the laser printer and outputting the story. Still we thought of ourselves as high tech.
These were exciting times. Macs and other computers were making huge advances virtually overnight. It was hard to keep pace with the changes. Buy a new computer and it was already obsolete when you took it out of the box. We eventually installed a Mac file server and wired our computers together on a network, which meant we could send stories and ads directly from our desktop computers to the laser printer. The file server also backed up our work and the network gave us access to the internet and email. Before we started using Macs, it was common to end our deadline day on Wednesday at 9 or 10 p.m. In the post Editwriter days we started heading home in time for dinner with our families, despite producing much larger papers each week.
One of the most dramatic changes Steve Jobs and his Macintosh computers brought to our newspaper involved the way we processed photos. Jobs didn’t develop a digital camera, by the way, but he designed his computers, which he often described as a digital hub, as the ideal place to work with photographs. Just to put all this into perspective, let me tell you the way it was before digital photography arrived at the Rocket-Courier:
We would shoot photos with 35mm cameras and I would develop the film and hang it up to dry. (Eventually I had lots of help from a local gal named Eleanor Ferguson, who developed and printed our film). The next steps involved producing a contact sheet, which gave us thumbnail-size-prints, select the photos we would use in the upcoming paper, produce prints on an enlarger in our darkroom, develop the prints and wait for them to dry.
By comparison, here’s the same procedure using digital photography: Shoot the photos, plug the camera into your computer, import the photos into Apple iPhoto or Adobe Photoshop and print the photos. The old way took hours; the digital process took minutes. Our switch to digital cameras literally paid for itself with the money we saved in chemicals, photographic paper and the labor-intensive job of processing film. Our darkroom has not been used since about 1997.
And now we rarely print our digital photos, another timesaver. Instead, photos are imported directly into an electronic page layout where stories, photos and ads are all arranged on the screen of one of our Macs. The days of pasting items on page layouts are long gone. Our pages are also sent to our printer electronically, another huge timesaver.
And I almost forgot to mention how our Macs made it simple and way less expensive to run full-color photos in our newspaper. It’s still an expensive process, but prior to the digital days it cost us about $70 each to purchase the color separations needed to produce color photos. Now it costs us nothing, our Macs do it.
Richard Loggins eased us through the early days of our transition to Macs, but after he moved out of the area, the job of keeping everything humming along became mine. And I can tell you that over the 24 years we’ve been using Macs to produce this newspaper, we rarely have had serious problems with our computers. That’s another reason I’m such a huge fan of Steve Jobs and his wonderful computers. Apple computers aren’t cheap when compared to other brands, but take it from me, you get what you pay for.
I probably don’t need to tell you that I was saddened by seeing the life of such a gifted person cut short. I hear that Steve Jobs left Apple with plans for four-years-worth of future projects, but I doubt that Apple will be quite the same without him.
Stop by our office and on the front counter you’ll see one of our original Macs that’s been stored away since it was replaced with a new model over two decades ago. On its tiny screen, I pasted a photo of Steve Jobs holding the original Mac surrounded by the crew of workers who helped him produce and market it. I think I’ll leave the old computer in our front office for another week or so. I just love it when people ask why it’s there and I get to tell them how this odd-looking little computer and the man who conceived it changed everything at the Rocket-Courier.