Tomorrow's newspapers

The Linotype machine and the rotary press were the new technology of the 19th century. They made it possible to produce daily newspapers at a price the man on the Clapham omnibus could afford.

But, as with so many British industries, weak management and selfish unions meant that more efficient ways of doing the work were ignored over the years and the working practices of the 1890s were still being rigidly maintained in the 1970s. The girl on the Underground could still afford the papers, but the papers found it hard to meet the wage bill.

The computer technology which arrived in the 1980s, coupled with the initiatives of Margaret Thatcher and Rupert Murdoch, changed all that. The entire printing factory disappeared, the printing presses went to a cheaper part of town, the journalists moved uptown and they started producing bigger papers and more editions than they had ever been able to do before. The gap between a journalist finishing his work and a plate turning up at the printing press went from several hours to a few minutes. The cost of producing a newspaper fell significantly.


I was lucky enough to work for the Daily Mail from the days of hot metal to 2010 and to be involved in the technical revolution. Yesterday's newspapers looks back at how journalists worked in the old days and how technology has helped them, And how the old technology worked when the ‘inkies' produced the paper.

There is a jargon page to translate the language of the trade.

The inkies are seen as Luddites today, but they had skill, they had standards and pride in those standards which were passed on from the old to the young. A single skill would do you in the old days. In today's ever-changing world, people need to keep learning new skills if they are to progress.


Newspapers were produced in hot metal for 90 years or so; they have been produced by computers for 25 years or so. Now the internet is showing how to get news to readers without the need for a printing press, van drivers and corner shops. The pace of change is accelerating.

The composing room could not adapt to the computer age. Some of today's journalists find it hard to adapt to the internet age. They need to look beyond tomorrow's paper.

People still want news, particularly well-written, opinionated news. If newspapers are to survive, they have to deliver it to people in the way the people with smart phones and iPads want it. Some readers will still want an inky paper to flick through, but that will become the expensive option. Most will want something quicker, more interactive and cheaper. The advertisers who want to reach those readers want that, too.