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Steve Jobs, R.I.P. (10/09/2011)
By Frances Edstrom

I was sorry to hear of Steve Jobs’s death, and at such an early age. I have only seen the man on the Internet in some of his famous rollouts of new Apple products, but I owe him a great deal. And you do, too, if you like to read newspapers in print or online.

When we first started in business, the IBM Selectric typewriter was our only tool for setting type, as the old “hot type” was thankfully on its way out. If it weren’t for the offset newsprint press and the demise of the letterpress, John and I would probably not have been able to go into business, and certainly wouldn’t have been able to be in business forty years later. We got in on the ground floor of the new age in newspapers, and were able to start up a paper with very little investment and no training in setting hot type.

After the Selectric, we bought huge blue Compugraphic typesetting equipment, which was much better, but still slow and time-consuming, and as big as a desk. Reporters had to type or write out stories for the person who was the typesetter to type on the Compugraphic machine. The typist had to be extremely good and accurate, since you couldn’t see what you were typing, unlike a typewriter. We were lucky to have had some good ones, Bernice Engel and Christie Hughes holding the position for the longest.

Then came the computer! Our first computers were the tiny Apple IIs. They had eight and a half inch screens, and were little rectangles that took up no more room than a twenty-pound sack of flour. Jerry Foster, who taught Project Science at the Winona Junior High, had one of the first ones I saw, and he called it his “portable” computer, because it was light enough to carry from work to home. But you wouldn’t carry it around to the coffee house or take it on vacation.

Reporters and artists could compose on the computer, but we still had to print out the story, wax the back of the copy, and stick it on a page in the way it would appear in the paper. The artists were able to do the same, but still had to cut art elements out of what were called “clip art” books. We did the page layout at long drafting tables that we made ourselves, sticking the elements on the pages with hot wax, so you could move an element if it didn’t go on right.

As the computers progressed, so did the software, and soon we were able to not only share all the information with everyone else in the company on the “server,” but then could compose all the pages electronically, called “pagination.” So now, the reporters write their stories on their computers, the graphic artists compose the advertising, and we can take the information from the server to make each page, which is then sent electronically to the pressroom.

What this means is that we can get our last page to the press at say, 5 o’clock, and a couple of hours later, the papers are collated, stuffed with inserts and delivered to the carriers, who then deliver them to our readers. In the old days, before we had our own presses, it was sometimes a twelve-hour turnaround, or more, before the carriers got their papers.

Our entire office, except for the bookkeeping department, works on iMacs of some sort — news, sales, graphics, circulation — everyone has a Mac. We have Mac laptops, and Macs that sit on our desks. Some of us have iPhones, or iPads, all due to Steve Jobs. He is called a visionary by the media, and I guess that’s the right word. But what I admire most, not being a “techie” by any means, is how intuitive his computers and other gadgets are. Except for a few in-house training sessions when we get new software, or workshops at conventions, no one except our graphic artists needed professional training to run our Apple computers. There are a few rules to follow, but other than that, anyone can just sit down, push some keys, and a product appears.

I’d call Steve Jobs a revolutionary, like Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson. He was the sort of person whose intellect, combined with the freedoms we enjoy in a democratic and capitalist society, knows no boundaries.



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