I was listening to a podcast today and someone mentioned doing ‘desktop publishing’ in the early 90s. My own memories suddenly came rushing back of my own start in ‘desktop publishing’. Mrs. Larraine Anderson’s Journalism class at Liberty Union High School in 1991. It was the class that produced the school newspaper – “The Lion’s Roar”.
Much of the class was what you’d expect – an extension of an English class – but with the added benefit of writing and creating something that others would actually read. Back then, that was a newspaper. In 1991, the web hadn’t ‘gone public’ yet, so there were no blogs or websites. Putting together the paper – physically putting it together – was part of the learning and the fun. By 1991, we weren’t counting letters and calculating column inches, we were taking turns typing up the articles we’d written long-hand and storing them on floppy disk. Once most of those articles were entered, I got to take over. This may be what really kick-started my interest and passion for computers and technology – I was introduced to “Ventura Publisher”.
I had no idea what I was doing, but Mrs. Anderson let me run with it… I spent A LOT of time between classes, during lunch and sometimes even during other classes laying out and formatting the pages using Ventura Publisher, trying to get the words to fit in the columns, resizing image placeholders, minutely adjusting margins to get the word wrap just right… as well as clicking something and suddenly deleting a bounding box or changing the font size of the entire page and not being able to ‘undo’ – there was no ‘CTRL+Z’! As the rough layout came together, I’d print the pages – on a LASER printer (this was SERIOUSLY high-tech for 1991!) and save them for the ‘paste-up’ days in class.
Paste-up days were the fun days! Several students gathered around the front table where the printed articles were cut out and the waxer would be run over the back side to make them ‘sticky’. This allow you to ‘paste-up’ each physical page of the newspaper. You could carefully rearrange the cut columns, headlines and placeholder photos to get everything to fit. (This is where I first met Ryan Galles, over the waxing tool, who became a life long friend, along with his wonderful parents and siblings who I love dearly.) There would be dozens of re-prints, cuts and waxing when a better headline came along, some text needed to be added or cut or a photo was resized. This was fun, but I do recall thinking – ‘Why are we doing this part? Just layout the whole thing on the computer and save it to a floppy for the print shop.’ I may have even brought up the idea to Mrs. Anderson but “desktop publishing” wasn’t ‘here’ yet. We were right on the bleeding edge of technology – using a desktop publishing program to create the form and layout the design, but still printing, cutting and waxing the paper.
Once the final layout was pasted-up, we’d have several somewhat fragile pages of dozens (or hundreds?) of pieces of paper, curling up where the paper hadn’t been waxed or it hardened before it stuck to the backing page. These were the ‘camera ready’ pages. It was the big day – Mrs. Anderson would take the newspaper to a local printer who would literally shoot large photos of each page to make negatives – which were then burned to printing plates. Within a week or so, we’d have hundreds of copies a real, newsprint, newspaper to be distributed around campus – with our names in it.
The experience of working on that newspaper for two years really may have been my tipping point. I have to give credit to Jeff Greatorex and his brother Martin Greatorex for giving me the computer bug. They introduced me to DOS, modems, BBSs (Bulletin Board Systems), file transfers and the Apple IIe. While we played a few very bad games, we used the computer for real computing and work. It was a magic box. I’m sincerely thankful for their friendship, education and excitement – just as I’m so sincerely thankful for the wonderful teacher, Mrs. Anderson, who empowered me to grow and learn and take the next step to make something real. Using software to do this wasn’t really done then, especially not by a high school kid.
My life changed in more ways than I can possibly know, directly because of them – I’m honestly grateful.