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Newspapers Thoughts on lettering

In honour of a decade: number 7

Nearly 10 years ago [December 2010], so not long after I commenced this blog, I wrote about the demise of the printed newspaper [see here]. I forecast that the print media did not have long to go, maybe 5 years [I was wrong], at the most 10. Here in Australia, the end of June 2020 saw a swathe of publications, most community-based, many with heritage spanning some 100 years, fall silent.

In my part of the world the print edition of the Tweed Daily News ended. Though the masthead proclaimed ‘daily’ to the bitter end, the paid-for print edition had been weekly [Saturday] for many years, with a free community weekly also hitting the front lawn on a Wednesday.

Tweed Daily News
Tweed Daily News

The end of print was longer coming than I first thought in 2010, but inevitable. I source my news mainly from the online edition of The Guardian where [still for free] I can read the latest from the UK, US and anywhere in the world, and access informed comment [if often not impartial].

Do I miss print? Hell yes – I was brought up on it, the smell and the sound of it, and for many years ran my own letterpress print workshop. But reflect more on the content of journalism today, than the production. Fewer news outlets, and the concentration of those in the hands of managements pushing a bias [which news ownership has ever been] can/does lead to misleading and inflammatory editorialising. Be mindful in the twists and turns of digital.

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History of Lettering Newspapers printing presses Typographic ephemera

In honour of a decade: number 2

It was back in late 2014 that I finally arrived in Dorrigo in NSW, Australia, and went to speak with the owner and printer of the last Australian newspaper printed letterpress – The Don Dorrigo Gazette and Guy Fawkes Advocate. 

Some five years later and the paper continues under the remarkable stewardship of Michael English and his wife Jade.

I still receive the paper weekly by mail. Read their story here. DDG Michael

Note: there are three parts to the post: click on part two and part three.

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History of Lettering Newspapers printing typography

The Gazette – Part Two

PART TWO: [If you missed Part One click here]

We arrived about 10am to find Michael and his partner Jade and their 19 month old son James waiting outside on a grass strip that separates the building housing the newspaper from a garage next door. Their car was full of that week’s edition waiting to be distributed. The business fronting Hickory Street is now occupied by a Trust promoting an endeavour to set up a new medical centre in town through money left by a past resident – the entrance to the newspaper is along the side and leads directly into the factory or ‘print room’. DDG Michael and type

DDG mastheadFor me walking into this building was like going back to the late 1980s and early 1990s when I ran my own letterpress workshop in Bromley, UK. It was not much bigger, about the size of a double garage, yet housed the Heidelberg cylinder, a Heidelberg platen, two Intertypes (one not working), and a composing bench, formes, a small proofing press and guillotine. In the middle of the room a pot belly stove for those cold winter mornings, though as Jade told me the heat from the Intertype’s lead pot was usually sufficient: it was the hot summer months that things became unpleasant inside, the tin roof focusing the sun’s heat even more.

There used to be several people who worked at the paper, assisting with the printing or typesetting but Michael does DDG formeeverything now, his father John having passed away. Everything that is apart from hand-setting the headlines which are done by Jade, who also folds the sheets each week. ‘I’m pretty quick at it,’ she says.

Though he is not a trained journalist Michael does a wonderful job, some of the copy being supplied or himself sourcing it from the internet (such as police reports). He has little time to service the machinery between editions and is having increasing difficulty, he told me, finding suitable supplies of newsprint and ink.

That’s when I realised just how devoted Michael and Jade are to keeping this enterprise continuing week in and week out – not just so that printing enthusiasts like myself can come and swoon over the machinery and raise hallelujahs that letterpress is still surviving. This is their livelihood. During our time the local estate agent dropped in to ask about next week’s ad, while Michael said that many of his regular advertisers know this paper is read from cover to cover each week, unlike its local competitior down the mountain.DDG ink

DDG JadeSo because it is their livelihood I ask that if any of this blog’s readers out there know of spare parts for the Heidelberg Cylinder or sources of ink or someone who can turn around recovering rollers quickly do make contact with Michael and Jade at the Don Dorrigo Gazette. Their email is: dgogazette@westnet.com.au

And think about taking out an annual subscription! At A$1 a week it’s the best investment you can make in letterpress.

To be Continued…DDG proof press

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lettering printing

Three cheers for the Don Dorrigo Gazette – three cheers for Michael and Jade

How long will commercial letterpress continue? Until it becomes too expensive to source spare parts or ink or, more likely, until the craft skills are no longer passed from generation to generation.

PART ONE: In the small township of Dorrigo (pop. 1100) high in the mountains of northern NSW commercial letterpress is, at present, alive and well. The Don Dorrigo Gazette is the last Australian newspaper (the Don Dorrigo Gazette and Guy Fawkes Advocate to give the full title) printed letterpress, and printed letterpress not as a hobby but as a business enterprise. DDG office outside

Now in its 104th year the newspaper is valued by the community it serves, for it acts as the heart of the community, a true community newspaper in every sense. One of the house-ads states: ‘Your Printer Is Part Of Your Community’. So much part of this community that 800 copies are printed each week, the eight-page edition hand-folded before being distributed both locally and afar and sold for a dollar; so much so that the rival newspaper of the big town of Bellingen (pop 2600) down the mountain is mostly shunned by the Dorrigo folk.

I first wrote about the Don Dorrigo Gazette two years ago (click here) and it has taken me that long to make the journey – about five hours from where we live in far north NSW, down the Pacific Highway, through the seaside town of Coffs Harbour before turning inland. So when we were serching around for a week’s break and my wife mentioned Dorrigo (there are wonderful rainforest walks and waterfalls to see) I didn’t hesitate.

DDG MichaelI didn’t know what I would find, though I think in my mind I had expectations of a much larger building, perhaps with a frontage that serves as reception and ‘newsroom’. After all, in my earlier years working as a journalist all the local newspapers I worked on in England had some sort of entrance, be it modest or grand. Not so the Don Dorrigo Gazette. (Though reading through the centenary issue of the paper, published on 20 January 2010 I find that until the late 1980s there was indeed a frontage, the ‘factory’ being built on in the late 1970s.)

We had arranged to meet Michael English (left), owner, editor, advertising manager, typesetter, printer and jack-of-all-trades, on Tuesday. He told my wife on the phone that he would be in early, around 5am, to finish off that week’s edition. The night before I scanned through the previous week’s edition: the front page ‘splash’ being Ancient History Display Comes To Dorrigo while Museum Musings on the back page (page 8, single page size 29cm x 44cm) contained the information that: ‘Our museum houses the complete set of the Don Dorrigo Gazette from 1910 to the present as well as the old Wharfedale letterpress printing press used to print the newspaper until it was replaced with the current Heidelberg cylinder press’. DDG heidelberg

TO BE CONTINUED …