By Maria Wyllie
Explore Big Sky Associate Editor
The Explore Big Sky editorial and design teams recently traveled to Great Falls to see firsthand what happens when we pass off the paper to the crew at River’s Edge Printing, located inside the Great Falls Tribune building.
The massive machinery used in the process is impressive and looks like it’s from another era. Despite the traditional approach, Michelle Dahl, who oversees sales and client relations for River’s Edge, explained that print isn’t going anywhere soon.
“I’ve been in printing since 1986,” Dahl said. “In the ‘90s people were saying there would be no more print in five years.”
Now, in 2015, River’s Edge has more than 100 clients and Dahl sees the major industry change being publications supplemented with a web presence, or web publications being supplemented with a print presence.
The phrase, “Stop the presses!” is here to stay.
EBS is typically a three-section, 48-page paper. Some, like this one you’re reading, are 64-page four section issues. In just two minutes, 600 copies of one 16-page section is printed on the cold web press, and then cut, folded and stacked. This means that if we print 7,000 papers in a run, each section of the paper could be printed in about 23 minutes. While the physical printing happens quickly, the journey to the production room floor is extensive.
The process begins in the Outlaw Partners office.
Every other Wednesday – once stories have been researched and written, photos have been shot, photo captions penned, the paper designed, laid-out and triple-checked for accuracy – digital files of the paper are uploaded to the River’s Edge web portal. Early Thursday morning, the files are downloaded by personnel at River’s Edge and then transferred to aluminum plates through a combination of ink and water.
Once the plates are aligned on the press, it’s go time.
On a cold web press, our full-color newspaper is printed using a technique called offset-color web printing, which means the inked image is transferred from a plate to a rubber blanket, and then to the paper’s surface.
In order to ensure consistent, high-quality color levels, a team of one to two people are constantly readjusting ink levels and comparing the colors on the press to a paper with correct color tones. Another employee stands at the end of the line, removing folded sections and stacking them.
After the first section has finished printing, the aluminum plates for the next section of the paper are swapped in and the process begins again.
When all sections of the paper have been printed – usually by mid-afternoon – the insertion process begins. A team of usually four River’s Edge workers takes their positions on the assembly line – one person places the paper sections onto the insertion machine; another two remove the fully inserted papers and tie them in 50-paper bundles. The stacks are then placed on pallets which are picked up by an MTS Freight driver promptly at 5 p.m., or by contracted Postal Service drivers to begin mailing thousands of copies around the country.
The following morning, Media and Events Director Ersin Ozer drives to MTS Freight in Belgrade, and distribution begins in earnest.
Between the 12 Outlaws, 10 people at River’s Edge, and up to five MTS Freight employees, a total of 27 people have worked hard to bring this free publication to your hands. We hope you enjoy.