The Pensacola News Journal’s press will never run again.
For more than a dozen years, it’s rumbled to life like a dinosaur in the night. At about 11 p.m. the last plate is cut — several hours after most of the newsroom staff has filed their stories and drifted into the dark.
Mirror images of carefully edited pages are carved on to shiny metal sheets and attached to the faces of a dozen massive machined drums. On the ground floor, enormous reams of paper are wheeled into position, waiting patiently under the hum of fluorescent lights to be fed into the beast.
Upstairs, a half-dozen men stand at the ready.
They poke and prod at panels and dials. Behind them, an electronic sign hangs silently on the wall. It reads zero. But not for long.
A button is pressed, and a thousand tons of man and machine lurch into motion. Their mass and speed belie their delicate dance as they spread words and photographs across acres of white paper.
Stacks of neatly folded pages pour from the beast like a waterfall through the rocks. They pass in a flourish under the watchful eyes of the half-dozen men, who grab still-wet pages at random and scrutinize them under bright lights, seeing imperfections invisible to my eye, and fine tuning the beast with a few taps on decade-old buttons.
The cascade pours through the wall into a huge room that bustles with noise and motion. Pages are stacked, wrapped and carted away into the night. By daylight, they’ll be placed on front porches and driveways, stuffed into newspaper boxes or sold on street corners.
It was our words. It was your news. It was our city. It was your press.
And before most of you knew, it was gone.
More than 80 people were laid off. The printing is done in Mobile now. No one really knows how much longer the rest of us will remain. Even the question if we will remain is uncertain.
Inside a quiet gray building in downtown Pensacola, we just hope your newspaper will survive.
And you should too.