Despite the quiet, a roar will remain

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Another aging press grows silent, but that won't stop the shout of the news

By Steve Doyle

The scene has no great artistic value, other than to galvanize one fictional man’s words with a living man’s conviction.

Humphrey Bogart. Ed Hutcheson in the film Deadline USA. Crusading editor for The Day. He’s taking down a mobster, seeking the truth against a cunning corruptor looking to control his city. Hutcheson is winning. He is telling the truth. He is gloating.

He goes to the pressroom. The mobster is threatening him on the phone. Hutcheson holds the phone out away from his ear as a din of metal cylinders begins to spin rhythmically, newsprint winding through to collect the next day’s edition.

“That’s the press, baby,” Hutcheson screams against the roar.

“The press! And there’s nothing you can do about it. Nothing!”

Sadly, Ed Hutcheson was wrong this time. We hear nothing today but the sound of silence.

Our pressroom should be humming as these words find their way to this page. The units of iron and rubber and steel should be turning and cranking, raising that roar of support for the news, like great mechanized lions shouting their dominance to the fiends of the savannah.

But that room is quiet and empty, save a person here or there dismantling this or that. It’s dark. It’s dead.

The bad guys had nothing to do with this, rest Hutcheson’s soul. The corrupt won’t silence a newspaper’s press. Blame the economic and sociological villains of 2013.

This is no bulletin in the world of journalism. Great iron machines from coast to coast go quiet like squirming children being collared by the sharp tug of a parent’s hand. They are being scrapped, sold and vacated like old cars that have no classic value. They are unloved by some and abandoned by others. They appear moot to some who would seem mute.

We understand. We must learn to survive with the quiet, like empty-nesters or grandparents in faraway outposts, like the house after a beloved family member has passed. The quiet eventually will give way to new processes, new addresses and new accesses, we hope, for otherwise our own vital signs could become flat and not-so-sassy.

Thus our printing presses run no more. For the first time in nearly 200 years, Shelby County no longer will produce that continuous cacophony of our pulse. Our heart will beat in another place, but our brain remains here, concentrating on all of you.

Think of this as sort of like a heart transplant, a necessary and sustaining operation if ever so unsettling and frightening. We who tell the stories that our presses have for decades printed are the patients, enduring, by the estimations of some, on tenuous life support, in need of the sort of infusion we could get from a new and better heart. We have stinted and stitched all we could, but our old pumper has been pumping cash alongside ink.  Sometimes it leaked, or its valves were faulty, or it stopped and gave us a scare before healing hands magically coaxed a beat out of nothing.

Our Rx is familiar and approved by our insurers. We will connect to a new machine that gives us greater hope for the future. We can’t hear the beat, but we feel a stronger, steadier  pulse. The doctors know what is best. Life expectancy extends.

We had to cut back on red meat, the humans required to run the press, men and women willing to get greasy, grimy and virtually tattooed with ink to spend eternal hours as experts, artists, mechanics and magicians, pushing buttons, twirling knobs, feeding paper and blending reds, blues, yellows and blacks into just the right mixtures.

They were like old grease monkeys tinkering with a jalopy. They had passion and insight and commitment, and they delivered the news as surely as reporters and editors and the people who put their work into your mailboxes and on your doorsteps.

These great machines and their operators long have been fascinating to humans who knew nothing about them. The buildings that housed presses often were built, like this one, with great glass walls, so the outside world could see the power of the arts reduced to the reliability of the sciences.

A boy who knew nothing about how newspapers were printed peeked through just such a window while walking on Broadway at 6th Street in downtown Louisville and was mesmerized by seeing one of these long, tall giants in motion.

As a fuzzy-faced college student he went to work in a brand new building where modernized versions added color photographs to a world he knew only as black and white. He was amazed, allured and awestruck, smitten for life.

Later, he saw a building two stories tall and a city block long constructed just for the state-of-the-art printing that would thrive inside, this one, too, with a glass wall to show the busiest of streets the poetry that is the motion. This was a building planned for growth, expansion and the future, space for more machines and more people, a place never to be silenced.

Thousands of people showed up on a Sunday to see that building dedicated by politicians and dignitaries and to line up for guided tours that would  explain how these great European  creations shake, rattle and roll and to try to get a sense how so many millions of words and images could be collected, polished, printed and distributed while you eat dinner, watch TV and sleep. The poet Dave Kindred called it The Morning Miracle in his book by that tile.

But we know men like Hutcheson, Kindred and that fuzzy-faced college kid are fewer and farther between, albeit toiling amid the glorious, wonderful and beautiful people such as you. And we are left in the quiet with this: We know what we know you need to know. That’s our inhale and our exhale, our sinus rhythm, our steady pulse, our hope for life, a hope made stronger and more durable by the machine that sits elsewhere and pumps our blood and fills our lungs.

Energized by that fresh air we will shout in words and photographs, to ensure your life processes thrive with the sustenance and care that we can provide.

Yes, as of this week, we live in the quiet here at The Sentinel-News, but we’re going to continue to scream loud and long for you. We’re the press, baby, no matter the sound.