Chatting with Todd Mangan the other day, it was clear I’d taken for granted the fact my newspaper gets to my driveway before I wake up.
I expect when our newspapers are printed in Deerfield Beach, we’ll still get them on time — even if the same men and women who have operated our production center since 2004 in St. Lucie West (and before that Vero Beach, Fort Pierce and Stuart) are no longer doing that work.
Mangan, who started working with our company in July 1984 at age 19, told me how the Stuart News sometimes was delayed by railroad trains that blocked delivery of grid sheets from downtown offices to the press on U.S. 1 at Monterey Road.
The newspaper industry used grid sheets 20 or 30 years ago to line up waxed strips of phototypesetting paper made up to look like a newspaper page. We had a camera room, where a negative of the page was made, then turned into a plate that went on the press.
If there wasn’t enough wax on the back of the paper, it would peel off and — as in one case remembered by former sports writer Dennis Jacob — a blank spot would appear in print where a coach’s photo was supposed to go.
The technological revolution
It was the art of composing a newspaper in an era when folks like Mangan began their careers on the Treasure Coast.
Folks I spoke with recently from the St. Lucie West facility are realists, understanding print is nowhere near as popular as it was decades ago. The ease of getting instant and interactive in-depth news with charts and videos on a personal computer, tablet or phone has changed things.
I spoke with them before the announcement Jan. 12 that starting March 26, our Saturday edition would be available online only.
It’s all part of an evolution I’ve seen in my 40-year newspaper career that began at the Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania. That’s when I typed obituaries on a clunky IBM Selectric, typing onto paper scanned into a typesetter. It beat the manual typewriters we used at the college paper.
Nowadays, the information for press plates is transmitted electronically and quickly. Printing is much quicker, too.
Plant built by Scripps: Treasure Coast Newspapers’ printing plant in Port St. Lucie to close Jan. 23
Massive increase in efficiency
Lenny Bowser, who started catching papers off the press at age 18 in 1981 at the old Tribune building on U.S. 1 in Fort Pierce, said press speeds increased from maybe 25,000 to 70,000 copies an hour over his career.
Early in his career, he said, he’d scoop 25 papers off the press and put them on a table, where they’d go on a conveyer belt for another employee to wrap. Until Scripps acquired the Tribune in 2000 and added a mechanical inserter into the Edwards Road plant, fliers and brochures were placed in newspapers by hand.
“We didn’t even have a paster,” Bowser said, noting once a roll of paper ran out on the press, workers had to manually add another roll, shutting the press down for 30 minutes.
Bowser has been a lead packager in St. Lucie West, prepping newspapers and inserts to be delivered to local carriers and distributors for outside publications printed at the facility.
He and associate Alan Medeiros — who started a day before Bowser after graduating from high school, but at the Press Journal in Vero Beach — have noticed the decline in inserts. CVS, for example, recently began promoting its sales insert via email. Circuit City, Toys R Us and many others have been gone for years as online shopping has impacted brick-and-mortar stores.
Medeiros, who joined the Press Journal shortly after it became a daily, saw massive technological advances in the mailroom — including a major expansion (at a now-vacant plant) in Vero Beach in 1988.
Working for 15 or 16 hours a day early in his career for the Schumann family always was challenging, he said, but “it sort of felt like a family.”
“It’s really changed since the computers came,” he said, noting the growth in online sales and impact of the pandemic. “It all flies by when you’re working — 40 years is like a blur. It’s crazy.”
Medeiros and Bowser said they’ll take some time off the determine their next career moves.
Optimistic about the future
In 1981, Medeiros said all he was looking for was a “stable, dependable job.” Now he hopes to be selective and do what he “would really like to do.”
Bowser also is optimistic.
“I’m not sure what I’m going to do, but at least there are jobs out there,” he said, noting he’s glad the facility didn’t close two or three years ago when there were fewer openings. “It’s probably going to feel a little weird, but I’ll probably still wake up about 4 in the morning.”
Mangan, who has spent much of his career in pressroom management, remembers only a few times when he heard those words made famous in movies: “Stop the press!”
Among those, at the beginning of the Iraq War and in connection with the story of Kimberly Bergalis, who died of AIDS in 1991 at age 23 after apparently getting it at her dentist’s office in Jensen Beach.
Mangan said he has enjoyed his career — especially being part of all the things the newspaper has done for the community, making sure readers get their news on time and the camaraderie of coworkers. He plans to focus on hobbies.
Mangan, Bowser and Medeiros beat my tenure (almost 37 years) here. Vivian Simmons, longtime production coordinator and administrative assistant, will retire after almost 46 years. She began her career as a typist in Stuart.
At 42, night press operator Brayan Irungu is at a different stage of his career. He has a partner who works days at the plant and a 7-year-old daughter.
“I’ve loved working here; it’s like a big family,” said Irungu, who praised coworkers for helping him to learn computer and other skills so he could move from packaging, where he began in 2005, to machine maintenance, then press operator. “Everybody is working together.”
Irungu, who moved to Port St. Lucie from Kenya, “is one of the hardest working people you’re ever going to meet,” said Mike O’Leary, who joined Treasure Coast Newspapers in 2002 to help build the plant. He ran the operation until 2020.
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' ... sad to see the family broken'
“My heart is so heavy for the people who have sacrificed so much (to put out a great product over the years),” O’Leary said. “I’m very proud of them. I feel badly they have to uproot themselves and start a new chapter.”
Like other industries, it’s been an evolution.
“It’s just another example of how the digital revolution has changed all of our lives,” he said. “It’s better, but people’s lives are affected.”
“This is not like a job,” he said. “It’s sad to see the family broken.”
At the same time, folks like Irungu should be welcomed by employers looking for the many talented, responsible professionals who worked at the plant.
“It’s been a good ride,” Irungu said. “It’s sad we are closing, but what can you do?”
This column reflects the opinion of Laurence Reisman. Contact him via email at email@example.com, phone at 772-978-2223, Facebook.com/larryreisman or Twitter @LaurenceReisman
This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Longtime workers bid adieu to Treasure Coast press facility | Opinion