Ron Helman wondered which would wear out first. He or the press at the Iola Register.
“Turns out neither,” the longtime pressman said. “But we’re both old.”
Helman has been lead pressman at the Register for 33 years. The newspaper’s Harris press has his tenure beat by five.
And while the 42-foot long press will soon be silenced with the transfer of the newspaper’s printing to a facility in Lawrence, Helman will stay on in a new capacity for the Register.
Beginning Nov. 1, The Iola Register will be printed by The World Company, the parent company of The Lawrence Journal-World.
“I knew this day would come,” said Helman, 60. “Just didn’t know when or how.”
As lead pressman, Helman has babied the Register’s four-unit press long past its expected life. “Normal lifetime is 25 years,” he said.
Publisher Susan Lynn credits Helman and his assistant, George Narcih, who is retiring, for taking the press this far.
“Heck, I could take it another 10,” Helman said with confidence.
The Register went to offset printing in 1972. In offset, the ink “kisses” the paper, Helman explained.
Before that, a letterpress with hot molten type embossed the paper.
The decision to become a four-processed color newspaper rendered the Register’s press obsolete.
For the Register to add the needed capacity to its press, “would mean a $200,000 investment,” Helman surmised. “And that’s on the low side.”
TO PRINT in full color, four different colors — cyan, magenta, yellow and black — are applied by separate units over which the newsprint passes.
“It’s hard to get all the colors to come together,” said Helman. “It has to be dead on, or else your pictures look fuzzy.”
The LJ World has two presses. One has 12 units; the other 18 units. The more the units, the more pages can be printed in color. It uses the larger press primarily to print the Midwest edition of USA Today.
For each press run, the Journal-World has a press crew of four to five on hand.
The Register will begin having the front and back pages of two six-page sections printed in full color. Sports will lead off the second section. Both photographs and advertisements can appear in full color on the corresponding pages.
The paper will remain an afternoon publication at the same price.
“The only difference customers will experience is a better-looking product,” Lynn said.
The switch will require an earlier deadline for reporters and for those who submit news, Lynn said.
“We’re early birds now, or night owls,” depending on a reporter’s preference to meet a 7 a.m. deadline.
Images of the newspaper will be e-mailed to the crew in Lawrence in PDF format where they will be printed directly onto plates that fit around the drums of the press.
Daily trips to retrieve the printed product will be made by Helman.
“I’m excited,” he said of the “freedom of the road,” in his upcoming responsibilities.
He’s also eager for a peek at the Journal-World’s operations. “All pressmen want to see other presses,” he said.
HELMAN pretty much taught himself how to run the Register’s press. “It was a process of trial and error,” he said.
Before coming to the Register in 1977, he worked four years at Herff-Jones and then a year at a print shop in Chanute.
Today, Helman knows the Register’s press “from end to end.”
The switch to out-sourcing the Register’s printing is bittersweet for Helman. “It’s like a divorce,” he said of the upcoming split.
During that time the press has failed to make a day’s deadline only four times and was printed by the crew at The Chanute Tribune. Over that same period, the Register has printed the Tribune seven times, Helman said with a touch of pride in his voice.
The silencing of the press signals an end to an era for other area newspapers, as well. During the last few years Chanute, Ottawa, Emporia and Fort Scott have all out-sourced their printing.
For many years the Register printed the Humboldt Union and The Yates Center News, weekly publications, which are now in the process of finding other printers.