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Tim Blagg

Busy, busy, busy ...

I’ve been using the phrase “flat out” a lot lately.

Flat out. You know, as in “pedal to the metal, keep the revs up, heel-and-toe-braking, wide into the corner, clip the apex, get on the power and set up for the next turn” flat out.

I’ve been busy.

In fact, the entire Recorder newsroom has been busier than ... well, fill in your own favorite metaphor.

We’ve been reinventing the newspaper, in essence, from the page 1 flag to the last comma, in new software, with new typefaces and entirely new procedures.

While continuing, of course, to put out our prizewinning newspaper six times a week.

Whew!

Of course, we use computers extensively to produce The Recorder. Reporters write their stories on them, send them electronically to their editor, who edits them, places them on a page, adds headlines, photographs and cutlines and then sends them, again electronically, to Northampton, where sophisticated machines produce printing plates, which are then placed on our brand-new flexographic press to be printed.

It’s a complex and demanding process which requires not only the traditional writing and editing skills, but also familiarity with what we call “pagination” programs.

Now we’re using an entirely different program to do the same tasks.

It’s sort of like learning to drive a new car — which has the steering wheel on the right, a manual shift rather than automatic, only goes in reverse, and has a throttle that adds speed when you lift your foot.

While driving in the Indianapolis 500.

All of our editors have thousands of hours of experience in the old software, so they’ve had to unlearn years of habit over the last few months.

It hasn’t been easy, and at times the newsroom has been tense and tempers close to breaking, but I hope most of you haven’t noticed.

We’ve printed on time and although there have been a few typographical errors and odd-looking layouts, for the most part the transition has been a good one.

Let me pause a minute and name those responsible: Adam Orth, our Features Editor has been my partner to spearheading the effort, while Night Managing Editor Samantha Wood and Local Copy Editor Greg Tyler have worked hard to help instruct others on the new system. Managing Editor George Forcier has been his usual patient self, while Editorial Page Editor Justin Abelson, Chris Harris and Bob York have soldiered on, producing pages while learning the new system. Sports Editor Gary Sanderson and his sports minions, Mark Durant and Jay Butynski, have tackled the difficult task of converting our sports agate page.

Recorder reporters and photographers have also had to change their daily methods, of course, and have added “flexible” to their usual “hard-working” and “accurate” tags.

The new setup is a “cloud-based” system, which means it isn’t affected by local conditions. We could literally put out a newspaper even if our entire building was uninhabitable, as a few Vermont papers found out recently when Tropical Storm Irene flooded their newsrooms.

This is a deadline business, and we’re used to stress. But converting to a new system is a strain, and we’re all glad we’re past the worst of this experience.

It’ll take awhile to get back to normal — we’re not there yet.

But it’s nice to know the family-owned company that includes The Recorder (as well as the Daily Hampshire Gazette) is willing to plunk down hard cash to bring us and our equipment into the 21st century. After all, some version of this newspaper has been printing here in Franklin County since George Washington was president, and the height of high-tech was a hand-operated two-page press.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Blagg has been Editor of The Recorder since 1986. He lives in Greenfield and is a military historian with an interest in local history. He can be reached at: tblagg@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 250.

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