Tomorrow's newspapers

For 100 years from the 1880s, once journalists had written, selected and edited their work, they had to pass it over to an army of printers who turned their stories and pictures into pages of type and etched plates.

The printing staff were divided into separate trades, just as shipyard teams were split into welders, rivetters and plumbers. Some trades set type, some read and corrected, some made up pages, some fetched and carried. Each trade belonged to a different union chapel. Each trade took pride in doing its job as its members had been taught during their long apprenticeship. Each trade jealously guarded its bit of work and opposed any attempt to change the way it was done, or merge it with any other trade's bit of work.

It all took ages and cost thousands of pounds.


This is how they did it. The technical terms are explained in the jargon page.


Linotype setting

The Linotype was an automatic typesetting machine. It was automatic in that it simplified the business Caxton invented of picking up an individual mould for each letter and arranging them into a line. A skilled operator was still needed to produce newspaper stories quickly.

The machine had a magazine of matrices - individual moulds for each letter, number and punctuation mark and a pot of molten metal, heated by electricity and fed by pig of metal dangling into it from a chain and hook.

The operator used a keyboard - not the standard keyboard we now use on computers, but one with every letter, figure punctuation mark and space the operator needed for the typeface which was loaded on his machine.

The stories sent up by the sub-editors would be split up by an overseer into takes and given to half a dozen operators. That way, a story could be set more quickly than if it was all given to one man.

To set a line of type, the operator started typing, copying from the grubby handwritten copy sent up by the subs. As he typed each character, the machine picked up the required matrix and dropped it into position. The operator had to judge how many words would fit into one line and space them out by typing in extra space between words, or between letters until the line was justified - filling the required column width from left to right. If too much extra space was needed, the operator could hyphenate the next word to justify the line, but this had to be done with care. It was not done to have several consecutive lines ending with hyphens and some words cannot be decently hyphenated. You can split Totten-

ham, but not Arsenal.

When each line had been justified, the operator would pull a lever and molten metal from the pot would be squirted into the line of matrices to produce a line of type. Once the line had been set, the machine returned the matrices to their correct positions in the magazine, ready for the next line.

One at a time, lines of type would be set this way and built up by the operator until he completed his take.

He would then stick the lines of type into a galley, with the paper copy, and take it to the random, the area in which the various takes of a story were collated into one complete story.

Operators had to be able to set plain paragraphs, or complex horse racing lists, football league tables or share prices, all in very small type. It was skilled work, it was hot and it was relentless - pick up a take, set it, pick up another, set it, and so on.

For many of us, the clattering noise made by dozens of Linotype machines defined newspaper production. I well remember visiting Budapest, after we in Britain had all changed to computer setting, and hearing that clattering as I went to a newspaper office in an old, galleried building. When I went into the composing room, there were the Linos, and there were large Hungarian women in aprons operating them. The only women in Fleet Street composing rooms were the few brave female sub-editors who supervised the make-up of pages as stone subs. The print unions had strict demarcations between each other and even stricter demarcations against women.

Click here to see a video of Linotype setting


Monotype setting

The Monotype was a more efficient typesetter than the Linotype. The operator simply typed out the copy and the machine produced punched paper tape. This tape was then fed into the Monotype casting machine which churned out justified lines of type automatically.

The Monotype system was not used by Fleet Street newspapers. The people who had learned to use a Linotype in a long, hard apprenticeship, did not want to see a simpler machine which any typist could use. And managements who had invested thousands in Linotype machines saw little point in investing thousands more in Monotype machines and then trying to renegotiate all their agreements with the Linotype  men.


Manual typesetting

Lino operators set the body copy - the paragraphs which make up a story. On most papers, headlines were set by a different bunch of people who worked manually, as Caxton did. On the Daily Mail, they were called casehands.

To set a headline in 36 point Schoolbook Bold, a casehand would stroll over to the type case which held that typeface and pull out the drawer which contained that size. He would pick out the matrices for each letter and assemble them in a stick- a short metal frame. When he had a complete line, he would take the stick to a caster which, like the Linotype machine, was designed to squirt molten metal into the matrices. He would then return the matrices to their correct positions in the type tray.

He would repeat the process for the other lines in a headline - or as much as he could set in one go. If a line had more f letters than were available in the case drawer, he would have to set part of the line, then return the matrices so that he had more f letters for the rest of it.

Once all the lines of a headline were set, the casehand would space them out vertically, put them in a galley and take them and the paper on which the sub-editor had scribbled his headline to the random.

On the Daily Mail, the casehands also made up complicated sections of pages such as the weather panel with forecasts and temperature tables, or the tax tables which go in on Budget day.

Click here to see a video of hand typesetting



The random was the clearing house for the composing room. People would bring type and the sub-editors' copy from which it was set to the random. The people who worked on the random printed proofs of the type they received in their galleys and collated the various takes of type into complete stories.

From the random, type went to a page on the stone and the sub-editor's copy with the galley proof went to the readers. I cannot remember whether random people ferried the stuff around, or people went to the random to pick it up, but I'm sure the various union chapels had strict rules about that.



Proofs were produced at two stages. Type was proofed when it arrived at the random and pages were proofed on the stone when they were finished. First, the type had to be inked with a roller which had been rolled up and down on a sheet with tar-like ink daubed on it. Then a damp sheet of copy paper was laid on the type and finally, a dry roller was rolled over the top to press the paper on to the inky type. For pages on the stone, this was a manual process, but the random guys had semi-automatic proofers which linked the inky and dry rollers. Proofing paper was kept damp because damp paper produced sharper proofs than dry paper.

Proofs were needed for the stone subs and the readers, who both marked changes on them, and for the printers - the composing room managers - who checked that pages had been made up correctly.

Proofs demonstrate the difference between then and now. Journalists could not see a story as it would appear in the newspaper until it had been subbed, revised, typeset in takes and then collated. Now, you can see your story as it will appear in the paper as you write it, either on screen, or printed out.


Reading room

Readers worked in pairs, one reader and one copyholder. The copyholder, as his title suggested, had the sub-editors' original copy and read it out. The reader had the proof of the type and checked that what his copyholder said matched the type which had been set.

If there were mistakes in the typesetting, or if the reader knew that God-fearing should have an initial capital and a hyphen and the sub-editor's copy had neither, he would mark corrections on the proof. As with everything in the printing domain, there were strict rules about how corrections should be marked, all documented in a manual.

When a copyholder and reader had completed their story, the proof, with its corrections written in, would be sent to the Lino desk, or the case desk and given out to set, just as the original copy was. Individual lines would be set for corrections, not whole sections of a story. When these had been done, the new lines of type would be taken to the random and then to the page, where a stone hand would replace a line with a mistake with the corrected line in the story in his page.

The composing room was a banging, clattering place. The reading room was a quiet, murmering place. And the readers were more cerebral than their printing brothers. They were about words and the accuracy thereof. They also checked the typography, but the words interested them more.



The stone was where pages were made up. It was called the stone because in the early days, stone was used to provide a flat surface strong enough to hold a page-sized bunch of heavy metal type. In Fleet Street, the stone was a heavy metal bench, waist high and capable of holding four broadsheet newspaper pages, or four pairs of tabloid pages .

A page was made up in a chase, an oblong metal frame, with two adjustable sides which could be moved inward to lock the type.

The stonehand made up a page, following the paper layout sent up from the editorial art desk. As stories,  headlines, pictures and adverts arrived from the random, he put them into his chase. He stood on one side of the stone and saw the page upside down and back to front. The other side of the stone was for the stone sub, a journalist who supervised the making up of pages. He saw the page back to front, but the correct way up. The stone sub was not allowed on the other side of the stone and he was forbidden to touch any type.

When corrected lines arrived, the stonehand would find the original line in a story, lift it out and replace it with the new corrected line.

When the page was made up, each column was tested for tightness. If any lines were loose, they might drop out when the page was moved to the flong press. Thin strips of metal were used to space out columns. Finally, the type was banged down with a block and mallet to ensure that nothing was sticking up, and the chase was locked, either by pushing down levers, or by tightening screws.

The picture at the top of this page shows two stonehands putting corrected lines of type into a pair of Daily Mail pages in the 1970s. The chase has its locking levers up; there is a galley on the right, with a galley proof on top of it and, beside it, a layout drawn on paper. In the foreground is a length of rule.


Stone sub

Sub editing is about words. Stone subbing was also about man management. The stone sub was an emissary from the enemy in an alien land and he, or occasionally she, had to work out how to get the natives to do what the Editor wanted, even though it went against their training.

If a stone sub had a good relationship with a stonehand, he could get half a line chopped out and the tail of a comma chipped off to make a full stop, which was quicker than getting the line reset. If the stone sub was abrasive, the stonehand could tell him to get stuffed and send the proof back to the Lino to have the line reset. The stone sub had to know when to obey the rules and when to risk bending them.

And he had to be decisive. If a story had to be changed, or a page had to be killed, he had to say so, no matter how unpopular that was.

Above all, he had to spot a problem before it was too late. He had to read stories in metal in reverse in the page. And if a caption said Bobby Smith was scoring for Spurs, the stone sub had to check that the metal picture did show that, and was not the earlier picture of Lochhead scoring for Burnley. If the sub waited until the page proof before finding mistakes, there would be no time to correct them.


Process engraving department

Engraving goes back to the days when the Chinese did printing by hand-carving wooden blocks.

The process department turned photographs and drawings into screened etchings in metal. A photo is a smooth image. Black blends into grey. To print on newspaper, a picture needs to be screened into rows of raised dots - thick dots for black areas, smaller dots for grey areas.

The traditional way of doing this was to expose a negative of the image over a light-sensitive layer on a metal plate. Where the light got through the negative, the plate was hardened, where it didn't, the layer was left soft. Acid was then used to etch away the soft areas, leaving the hardened areas as a raised image.

The Germans invented a machine to do this. The Klischograph scanned a photo and engraved the image in dots on metal automatically. It was used by newspapers in the regional press, but Fleet Street continued to use acid engraving until the advent of photocomposition. This may have been because Klischograph pictures were not as sharp as acid-engraved images, or it may have been another example of an old skill being preserved in the face of new techology which de-skilled the job.

Adverts were produced in the same way.

In the hot metal days, artists manipulated pictures in the process department. They used paint brushes or spray guns to lighten or darken areas of a photo, or they could cut the head from one photo and graft it on to another in which the model had looked away. Strangely, when Photoshop replaced paint and scissors, manipulating pictures was still seen as something which should be done in the production area, not in the editorial area, even when bright young artists started showing what they could do with Adobe software in the layout and graphics areas.



When a page was completed in hot metal, two stages were left before it could be printed. First, a flong was made by pressing a sheet of flexible resin on top of the page under a large hydraulic press. Then the flong was sent down to the foundry where it was curved to act as the mould for a semi-cylindrical printing plate which went on the printing press.

Taking the page of type from the stone to the press was done very carefully. First, it had to be slid from the stone on to a heavy trolley with an adjustable top which could be raised to the same level as the stone.  The trolley was then wheeled next to the press and the page was slid on to the bed of the press. All the type had to be held tightly in the chase for this to work. I have seen several lines of small type slip from the weather panel in page 2 as the page moved on to the trolley, causing agonising delay while the lines were picked up and shoved back in roughly the right order.


Making up a pair of Daily Mail pages in hot metal