Reel Men Love Newspapers

Part of the charm of running a good-old-fashioned newspaper is not just the smell of paper and ink wafting throughout the building, but also the bona-fide printing press down the hall. Yes, all you doubting Thomases, in some places in the world, they print news on paper. If you've never seen a modern press, trust me, it's awesome. It's four floors tall and the paper reels it prints on are about 1800 pounds each. It takes three hours, a roomful of reels and a skilled reelman to print our newspaper (plus a lot of other people upstairs). And that's if everything goes right.

Before Tuesday, however, I didn't know any of that.

The ARN, being the only newspaper in town, gets a lot of press. (I'll pause for the obligatory eye-roll). Teachers love to bring their classes through on tours, available year-round by appointment. Usually, our good friend and marketing manager, James, has the honor of escorting the horde of 7-year-olds around the building.

This week was different. The group that came in was on the oldish side, for field trips, at least. They were a group of Big Country high school students participating in a year-long leadership program. We were just one stop in a long day of visits to the media outlets in Abilene (all three of them). Also, James asked me to tag along and learn the tour so I can do it in the future. So, we met the kids in the lobby and off we went.

We looked at the old presses on display in the lobby, talked about the history of the paper, walked through some departments and eventually, made our way upstairs to the exciting part of the tour: printing the paper.

I've seen a tour before. Normally, we stand outside a glass wall and look inside at the machines, ooh, aah, next. Today, we ran into Ed. As I found out later, James already knew Ed, but I'd never seen him before, so I thought we just got lucky. Lucky, because Ed happens to work on the press, and he knows just about everything there is to know about printing a newspaper. Not only that, but he could let us into the famed glass-walled room. Not even James or I had been inside before. I was probably more excited than the kids were.

Anyway, Ed is a reel man rockstar. It was obvious as he wove his way through the maze of machines that he's great at what he does because he loves it. He's been in the newspaper business for years, and he told me he's afraid, not of losing his job if the presses ever stop rolling, but that when they do, the art will be lost. And it is an art.

Ed's friend, Larry, is in charge of "pasting" the rolls. Tens of thousands of newspapers won't fit on one roll, so someone has to be ready with a new roll when the old one runs out. It requires expert timing to paste the old paper to the new just as the edge of it spins off the reel, and if you miss, everything grinds to a halt. Ed says Larry's one of the best, and I believe it. He has all kinds of tricks for wrestling those giant reels onto the machines, and on top of that, he's just a nice guy.

The point is, they're both nice guys. They're passionate about what they do, and they want to share it with anybody who will stand still and listen. Yeah, they have ink all over their hands and faces and clothes. They work until 2 or 3 a.m. every night. The work they do is hot and tiring. But it's cool. And they know it.

What are we missing? Why can't everybody be fired up like that? To be fair, being a reel man is unique. Some people don't even know how to fold a newspaper anymore, much less explain how it's made. It's a novelty, for sure. But after years of the same work, I think the shine has probably worn off for Ed, just like any other job. I think the reason he loves his job is because he's invested in it, his time and patience and sweat, and he's proud of it.

So, the question is, are you proud of your work? Do you do everything to the best of your ability? Are you good at monotasking? If you're not pouring your heart and soul into everything you do, just maybe the boring job isn't the problem.

My challenge for tomorrow: try loving your job. See what happens.

(photo cred: wcm777)

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