Late Saturday night. The unnatural ca-chug of presses unnaturally silent. From the last days of the Eisenhower Administration to the second term of Barack Obama, industrial walls amplified the mechanical thrum of ink on paper.
At the corner of California and Grand Avenues, the presses are still.
The Herald’s print edition lives on farther down Interstate 5, at Sound Publishing’s Paine Field facility. Something new, like a house uprooted, feels unreal. No middle-aged editor racing breathless from the newsroom, “Stop the press!” Today, it’s empty stools, a cavernous room reeking of blanket wash.
Places of work, the intersection of human and machine, create a kind of sacred space. Four walls and a shared experience of people coming together in common cause like a secular house of worship.
Ask a millwright from Kimberly Clark what they see as they look west across Port Gardner Bay. The imaginary outline of a brick monolith blasting with life; a razed building that ignites memories of shouting, triumph, boredom, exhaustion, hitting quota. Work. As poet Philip Levine wrote, “You know what work is — if you’re/old enough to read this you know what/work is, although you may not do it.”
On a snowy February in 1956, The Herald building on Wall and Colby was gutted by fire, as editors retreated to Priebe’s Stationary Store on Wetmore to layout the afternoon edition. With the big press “charred and silent,” the paper published in Seattle.
Presses evolve. The stilled machine is a double-wide, “double around” Goss Metro Color Liner with two four-color towers, one four-over-one color tower, and a mono unit capable of producing 64 broadsheet pages in six sections. It’s rated at 70,000 copies per hour. 1956 it ain’t.
A paper has interdependent parts. Production can seem invisible, like a nervous system ignored until that rare time something goes sideways. For lifers moving on like Mat Orbeck and Joe Norton, there is the heartbreak of a lost art. Young people no longer fixed on learning about lithography and offset printing. The knowledge of craft, knowledge passed from generation to generation, falls away.
For years, The Herald’s mantra of “yes we can” rang true, press workers say. Management and union, news department, advertising, and production bound together and, by extension, mutually respectful. Production regularly earned 100 percent quality scores.
So what now for a union worker, in a bleed-union town? The painted banner on the side of the Snohomish County Labor Temple reads, “Protect your interest” and “Buy union label.” Those shouldn’t be anachronistic slogans. The dignity of work and the rights of workers must always be protected.