I mentioned in my last Sundown Rundown that I got to go on a tour of the Chicago Tribune’s printing press, so I figured I’d elaborate a little bit on that brief mention.
And yes, before you get started with the jokes, newspapers do still exist.
Every once in a while, the Tribune will promote open-door printing press tours to the general public. So, when we got a newsroom email advising us of the latest tour date, my social media obsessed-self obviously had to ask:
“Hey, boss. Can we Periscope this?!”
My equally social media obsessed boss obviously agreed, so I got the clearance to tag along with a group of equally interested individuals.
Because I spent the first half of the tour with my phone tied up Periscope-ing, I don’t have as many photos as I would like to have.
Regardless, I think the photos I do have are still pretty cool!
I woke up bright and early, and then hopped on the red line, walked seven or eight blocks, hopped on a bus and then walked another several blocks across the river and to the Freedom Center.
To start, the two dozen-or-so of us all gathered in a conference room for a brief presentation about the Tribune and its facilities.
In addition to the flagship Chicago Tribune itself, the Tribune also produces several weekly papers for area suburbs, as well as specialty papers — such as the entertainment-focused RedEye, and the Spanish paper Hoy.
We learned about how the Tribune’s editorial department (ie: me!) works, and about how the editorial department collaborates with the printing department when it comes to making daily deadlines.
Then, we started on our tour.
I was awestruck at how completely massive this facility was!
In addition to printing the Tribune and all of its affiliate papers, the presses at Freedom Center also print the Chicago Sun-Times, as well as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
The last time I toured a printing press was in seventh grade, at the Tecumseh Herald. The Herald’s press focused only on the Herald, which was a weekly newspaper with a circulation of 4,100. There was one small press in a back room.
For comparison’s sake, the Tribune is a daily paper with a daily circulation of almost 450,000, and a Sunday circulation of more than 850,000.
(And that’s not even taking into consideration all the aforementioned papers that are printed in the Freedom Center.)
In fact, the Freedom Center is the largest web-offset printing operation housed under one roof in all of North America!
The first thing we saw were the rolls of newsprint (which come from Canada), and are moved around the facility on moving sidewalk-type of mechanisms. The paper is moved from the delivery portion of the building, stacked in the center of the presses, and then loaded into the presses on moving sidewalk-type contraptions.
The presses themselves are two-stories tall and entirely overwhelming. There are 10 of them all working side-by-side, and when they’re all operating at once, it’s incredibly loud! Only one was running when we toured on a Tuesday morning, though.
Here’s a Vine of one of the presses in action.
We toured the “green room,” where the plates are made. (I was Periscope-ing during that portion of the tour, so unfortunately there are no photos.)
The Tribune uses a method called “offset printing,” where thin and pliable metal printing plates are inked, and then rolled across the paper to create your newspaper page.
To contrast, the Tribune used to use letterpress printing, which required hefty metal plates with raised surfaces, which were inked and pressed across paper.
I thought this was the most fascinating part of the tour, since I learned about printing methods in college, but never had a chance to really see them in action.
We ended the tour by walking down a hallway filled with historic Tribune relics. All of the wall-mounted and glass-enclosed artifacts were found in the basement archives of the Tribune Tower – the building at 435 N. Michigan Ave. (That’s where my office is.)
The basement archives are climate-controlled, and five stories deep.
Such an amazing reminder that not only has the Tribune been crucial to recording Chicago’s history, but it’s also an important piece of Chicago history itself.
There were dozens of cases full of old copies of the paper, old advertisements, old photos, plaques and other general newspaper memorabilia.
At the end of the tour, we were allowed to take an offset printing plate home with us.
As a huge Detroit Red Wings fan, I wasn’t particularly dying to get my hands on any of the Stanley Cup championship-themed plates up for grabs, but I took one home to gift to my cousin, who grew up outside of Chicago and loves the Blackhawks.
The tour was such an interesting experience! I really wish I hadn’t had to multitask and Periscope the entire process so I could have paid more attention and taken more photos for myself, but my job obviously comes first.
Have you ever toured a printing press? Is this something you would do? Let me know in the comments!