In 1450 Johann Gutenberg began work on printing a Bible in a new manner which revolutionized printing, that of moveable type.
Today, nearly six centuries later, after countless changes in technology, The Chronicle - and all its colleagues in printing - in a manner has returned to a principle of publishing which, though light years removed from that earlier effort, in some ways is the same.
In Gutenberg’s day, if reproduction of reading material was not to be hand written, it had to be carved in blocks, often of a full page. It could be used only for the life of that particular manuscript, a word which itself stems from “hand written.”
Then he developed the technique of single letters which could be combined for a given piece, then disassembled and used in a different gathering for another one.
With computer-set publishing, we are back to setting type for a page at a time, often a page as large as a tabloid— or full-sized newspaper page. But this is hardly the same as that which Gutenberg eliminated. And he wasn’t doing newspapers.
For centuries after Gutenberg revolutionized printing, his system reigned. Printers, with a large tray of letters before them, picked out the letters one by one and assembled them into words and sentences.
This tray was known as a “case,” and the capital letters were in one case and the small letters in another, hence the terms upper case and lower case.
In 1886 came development of the Linotype, a machine which assembled little molds of letters which the machine then cast into a single line of letters on the edge of a piece of metal known as a slug. The process named the machine, and the word slug - though it no longer refers to a bar of metal with letters along one edge - still is used in newspapering as a reference to a story’s working name.
In the early days of the last century, a newspaper which had a Linotype machine set it up in the front of the shop so passing people could look through the window and watch the clanking machine assemble the matrixes (mats), whirl them around to receive the shot of molten metal to make a slug, and then drop it in a tray as the machine distributed the mats back into their places in the magazine, ready for the next line.
A Linotype at full speed could set up to six two-inch lines a minute.
When The Chronicle began publishing in 1910, it presumably had its Linotype where people could see.
The paper was published by a committee of Omak men, taken over by a man named C.P. Scates, and then by Frank DeVos, who arrived from Oroville (by canoe) to take over publication. He ran it until 1926, when it was bought by Frank Emert, who had been publishing in the Okanogan Highlands.
Early offices were on Main Street between Central and Apple avenues and on the northeast corner of Main and Bartlett streets.
In 1929 Emert built the building at 109 N. Main St. which housed The Chronicle until 1989, when it moved to its present site at 618 Okoma Drive.
From the beginning of Emert’s management, there was a staff. The paper was not a one-man operation, though there have been such.
In addition to the Linotype, which ground out the type to be assembled into pages and then put onto the great flatbed press, there were other machines to be run. Besides printers there was a staff to gather and write the news, an advertising sales staff, and — a term which may have gone out of use now — a shop “devil,” who worked around doing work too elementary to take the time of a printer.
It was the devil who broke up the pages after the press run, threw the slugs into the melting pot to be recast into ingots to feed the Linotypes, sorted the hand type back into its cases, and cleaned up. Then it all began again.
I joined the staff in 1954. My husband, who was foreman in the shop, had signed on a few years before that. My early assignment was as the “front office girl,” dealing with the public coming in to leave stories for the paper, or buy pencils or other office supplies. I phoned for local news (birthday parties, wedding showers, etc.) and read proof, trying to catch and correct typographical errors (typos).
Some three years later Emert sold the paper and retired, and the partnership of Bruce Wilson and Joe Sinclair took over. This began a parallel tradition that the wife of the publisher would be involved in the paper.
Edna Emert was a fine Linotype operator. She could keep the machine “hung” (going as fast as it could), and her type was clean (without typos). She also headed up the mailing crew which gathered every Wednesday evening to assemble, fold and address the papers ready to go to the post office.
Bruce Wilson was the first trained journalist at The Chronicle. His wife, Merilynn, also a trained journalist, wrote for the paper.
Wilson inherited as a staff member veteran ad salesman Harley Heath, who wrote the column “Seen and Heard in the Okanogan,” which always appeared in the lower right-hand column of the front page.
I can’t recall whether his column came in typed or hand written. His ads always were laid out by hand, neatly lettered and spaced.
But the sparks flew between him and the production staff, which wanted its copy in writing so there was a record of it rather than being given verbally.
Heath also started the tradition of awarding jellybeans to the first child who bring buttercups into the office each spring. That tradition still stands.
Wilson opened up the editorial page to letters from readers in an expanded volume which continues to this day. This also gave rise to the disclaimer by the paper, “Publication does not imply agreement or endorsement by The Chronicle.”
And some writers have been so enthusiastic that it is necessary to add as policy, “Writers are limited to two letters on the same subject within a six-month period.”
Technology moves on
Times — and technology - moved on. The first items of the revolution which came to be known as cold type, as opposed to hot-metal type, came in the form of a machine called a Justowriter. It looked like a pair of overgrown typewriters, though they were infinitely heavier.
One punched a paper tape. The other read the tape and typed on paper the material to be used. Each sounded like a jackhammer, and the noise level in the production department, which never had been low, went up sharply.
People took to wearing ear protection, for when the units were set in a corner so that the sound was reflected off the walls, the noise level rose to the point of being dangerous to one’s hearing.
The strings of type thus produced were taken to inclined light tables and pasted onto page-sized layout sheets known as flats. These were photographed, and the resultant negatives used to burn an imagine onto a plate of thin aluminum.
It was this plate which actually went onto the curved drum of the press.
With the arrival of the Justowriter, a new member of the production team made his appearance: The technician who arrived to trouble-shoot when the machine went “down” and would not operate.
The day of having one of the staff be a machinist who could maintain the company machines was over.
With the arrival of cold type, The Chronicle sold its old printing press and contracted with the Chelan Valley Mirror for presswork.
With the flats completed and the plates burned (done with a machine like an arc welder), a driver took off for Chelan while the staff did the cleanup and reorganization — and took the first steps toward the next issue.
And as the editors and reporters held a staff meeting to line out the next issue, the mailing crew assembled for addressing, sorting and bundling of the papers.
Route carriers reported to pick up their papers, some bundles went to the post office for outlying subscribers, and distribution began.
Technique there has changed, too. In place of the long lists of subscribers (which Edna Emert set on the Linotype — she also managed subscriptions — and the crew then pasted onto the papers with a form of paste which Edna cooked up on her kitchen stove), the lists were maintained on computers. They were printed out on self-stick labels which the crew, their hands moving very rapidly, pressed onto the papers.
The Justowriters and their din lasted a couple of years. Word around the shop was that they never had been designed for newspaper use.
With the arrival of the first Compugraphic machines — blessedly quiet — the Justo-
writers were gone, following the way of the old press which had made its own racket and shaken the ground of the building and part of North Main Street.
And after that, The Chronicle was swept into the current of machine changes which continues to the present. The Compugraphics set their type on photosensitive paper in a cylinder which was put onto a large machine, the Trendsetter, which “read” or developed it and turned out galleys of type.
These machines were partly computerized, and with them began the series of constant updates of machinery which is a mark of our age.
A machine ordered from the manufacturer and which took three months to get here was beginning to be obsolete before it was quite installed. The Chronicle went through a series of Compugraphic machines (that company no longer exists because, the word is, it did not keep up with technology as it was developing) and finally to fully computerized typesetting equipment.
Representatives of the Compugraphic company came to The Chronicle and spent several days teaching the staff the new techniques. The system included dedicated word processors which allowed reporters to move from electric typewriters to computers with floppy disks.
On occasion it was difficult to break in new things which were totally unfamiliar - and still produce a paper on time.
And specialization, always present to some extent, continued. There were things the production staff could do on their machines with the computer programs they had that the news staff could not do.
And in another closing of the loop, The Chronicle returned to the practice of a resident trouble-shooter, a computer specialist who kept the machines running.
That ranged all the way from wiring and installing new machines to tracking down why a machine suddenly wouldn’t work, to helping out when there was a momentary failure in the power.
With the change in ownership to Eagle Newspapers Inc., a new source of technological information was available — along with news of improvements, aids in records keeping and cautions about hazards on the Internet or in email.
Eagle bowed out in 2019 with sale of the paper to J. Louis Mullen and his father, Tom Mullen.
And technology continues to evolve, as everything is done on computer. The paper is printed at The Wenatchee World and mailed from its plant. Home delivery via carriers ceased in 2018.
Along the way, The Chronicle added an award-winning website and e-edition, a digital version of the printed paper, and social media sites. Updates of the news now can be truly instantaneous.
But technology is not the only thing which has yielded to time. Philosophy of publication also changes.
Early Chronicles had a way of announcing suicides in headlines, an action which must have wrenched at the families of those concerned. Sometimes it was gory details in accidents.
Today the language is more circumspect.
And in going over old issues it is possible to sense a changing social outlook with the passage of time. Old cartoons lampooning other races are definitely out these days — as they should be — and The Chronicle strives to present the viewpoint of both sides on controversial matters.
It hasn’t always been this way. (I was told one time that the paper at Yakima, in the hands of a staunch Republican, did not even mention the word Democrat. They didn’t exist.)
Difference in appearance
One of the most obvious things in comparing the present-day Chronicles with those of earlier years is the difference in appearance. The very first ones were published in an eight-point type (a point is a 72nd of an inch), and when one goes through them at the library or the Okanogan County Historical Museum, they sometimes are hard to read.
In addition, there were very few pictures in those days.
What ranked as a fine photograph then would never be accepted now, and a recent change in equipment (digitizing) has given rise to pictures of a quality undreamed of in earlier days. A slightly larger type size also makes for easier reading.
Bruce Wilson, as indicated earlier, was a trained journalist, and when a late story was breaking, he could - and on occasion did - stay up all night to get it for the paper.
With the advent of John E. Andrist the photography became sharply better, and his immersion in the life of the community brought immersion of the paper in the life of the town.
I recall one circumstances when people were going bananas over rape. To hear them, you’d have thought it was happening multiple times a day. John asked, in an editorial, “Now really, Omak, is this how you want to act?” The care subsided.
John ran his staff with a slack rein. The rein was there, but he gave people their heads to develop and make decisions. The result was that when he was felled by his stroke, the staff continued to publish the paper while every other publisher in the state waited for it to fall on its face.
For two and a half years the staff kept the paper going — and going well — until finally John and Mary sold to Eagle Newspapers.
John and Mary were other journalists who were trained, and although the standards had been high before they came, those standards went even higher.
Mary had been with Associated Press and believes in professional standards.
One of the most scathing charges she could level at something was, “That’s unprofessional!”
Personnel have come and gone. It was John who began to bring in news interns to work on the paper and give them resident experience.
The word was that at the J-schools of the universities, Omak was considered a good place to go because the intern got put into real news instead of being confined to pink tea parties and the like.
There have been some very good ones and some who simply took advantage, perhaps par for the course with human beings.
One former (front office) staff member who moved to Grand Coulee wrote, at age 91, “Omak no longer is the small town it was when I lived there.
Those years I worked there were my very best, first at the Okanogan Valley Clinic with the doctors, then the staff at The Chronicle. I met some wonderful people and learned a great deal in both places.”
Such a recitation, which begins with a concept nearly six centuries years old, cannot do justice to the lists of people who have passed through the ranks.
And always there was the awareness that the manner in which the news is presented — that is, its balance and even-handedness — can make a difference in the life of the community.
It is a concept The Chronicle’s staff works on. Is publishing in this way responsible? The Chronicle seeks to avoid being sensational.
And so this paper goes on in the centuries-old tradition of giving the people the news of what is going on, for people want to know. If they don’t get the information from a responsible source, they will guess, and that frequently leads to rumors which are anything but responsible.
We at The Chronicle have been at it for 110 years. The fact that there have been only nine publishers in that time says something about stability. What we most want is to merit the confidence of the readers - and to go on doing more of the same.
Editor’s note: The bulk of this article was written by Elizabeth Widel in 2000 for The Chronicle’s 90th anniversary. Additional information and updates were added by Dee Camp.