Today, a small group of us went on a guided tour of the Los Angeles Times editorial and printing facilities. California native Darrell Kunitomi, our tour guide and one of the Times’ longest working employees (a total of 37 years!), walked and talked us through the newsrooms, warehouses and presses. He has been giving tours to groups from schools, retirement homes, day camps, anybody who wants to take a look behind the scenes of one of the nation’s most important publications. When he’s not giving tours, Darrell speaks on behalf of the company, handles pressing community concerns, and is responsible for all history and circulation calls. He feels that the paper is worth working for because it has had such an effect on the development of Southern California. The time he gave us was humbling and illuminating.
We began in the lobby of the L.A. Times where there are several historical exhibits concerning the newspaper and the city. Remarking on an early article of Pasadena’s Rose Parade, Darrell told us that the Parade was originally conceived to show the freezing Midwest and East of the United States that we had warmth, flowers and fun; why not move to sunny California!
Throughout the lobby, Darrel informed us about the early history of the Times, including early publishers Harry, Norman and Otis Chandler and ended up by an antique Linotype machine. This remarkable piece of equipment revolutionized the printing industry in 1884 and lasted until the 1960s when offset lithography and later desktop publishing transformed the industry again. Here is the tour group around a Linotype plate on display:
We then moved upstairs to the sprawling news floor, where we noticed it was calm and peaceful. Darrell told us: “Even at dinner time when the deadlines are coming up, it’s very quiet.”
Darrell picked up an L.A. Times style manual and flipped to different pages, reading off a few of the rules. “‘General public’ is redundant. Public does the job… Gas is different from gasoline. Gas is in the air, gasoline is in your car…La Brea Tar Pits is redundant as ‘La Brea’ means ‘The Tar.’”
Following Darrell, we snaked our way through a series of hallways lined with notable photographs shot by L.A. Times photographers:
He explained that in any photo published in the Times, the photographers cannot construct or reconstruct a scene and that they are not allowed to coach or tell a subject how to be in a photo. The displayed photos ranged from serious to fun to murderous. We came to an end of one of the hallways and popped briefly into the video broadcast corner:
And now, perhaps the most unique part of the Times properties:
No other newspaper in America has a test kitchen. Every recipe included in the paper is tested before it goes to print.
Following the kitchen, we were shown the impressive Kardex Lektriever:
This huge machine helps to collect and categorize every single newspaper clip of each story from Orange and Los Angeles county’s L.A. Times from 1935 to 1987. Darrell pulled out a few of the clippings to illustrate the supremely thorough organization:
In the same vein as the newspaper clippings, Darrell took us to the photo archive and pulled out a few examples to “ooooohs and aaaaaahs:”
The last stop in the editorial half of the tour is the offices including the board room.
The boardroom contains a custom made, oblong table which imposes without being too aggressive:
Moving on, we hopped into cars and drove a little less than two miles to the printing plant for the second part of the tour. There are approximately 200 employees working at the printing plant to maintain, clean, and operate the complex machines. Inside the modern and fresh lobby is a well-loved Potter printing press from decades past:
Moving from the lobby, we entered the roll holding room, struck by the smell of paper and the expanse of all these paper rolls:
Each roll of paper is between six and eight miles long, weighing in about 400 lbs. each. The roll lasts about 20 minutes in the printer. There is enough paper in this room to unfurl from Los Angeles to Seattle and back! Here, Darrell is giving us an idea of the width of the L.A. Times on a single paper roll:
Next to the roll holding room is the roll storage room. We took a walk through and were all impressed with the vast size of the storage:
In this huge space, there are no laser-guided robots to move the rolls around. Good old-fashioned human beings move them with custom designed lifts:
Moving out of the storage room, we assembled and waited for a freight elevator:
Once inside, traveling upward, we spotted some mementos from employees past:
Finally the elevator stopped and we were treated to the printing press room:
Six presses, made up of individual printers (one for each color of red, yellow and blue) sit silently before us, motionless. Aluminum plates press ink onto paper which turns into the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, USA Today, and of course the Los Angeles Times. The guest newspapers use the L.A. Times’ state of the art printing presses for West Coast distribution. Darrell pulled us closer, actually into one of the printers:
The plate never actually presses directly onto the paper; it offsets to the roller. At one point, describing the scene at night when the presses are in operation, Darrell states matter-of-factly that the machines are “very fast, very fast, very scary. Things tend to fly.” The presses are cleaned and inspected once a week, taking eight hours to prepare each press for the next six days of printing.
Darrell funneled us through to another section. “Prepare to be amazed. This is the folder:”
This machine folds the printed newspaper into the familiar reading format we know and love. We will return to the printing presses, but Darrell takes us now to the plate exposure room:
Instead of paper, our noses are inundated with the smell of fix. Bathed in the safe green light, we are shown the thin aluminum plates which are exposed with each page of today’s newspaper. Darrell even gingerly shows us the inside of one of the projectors:
A fiber-optic line connecting the editorial building transfers the images and text to these digital projectors. The aluminum plates are projected on a curved roller and “fixed” (developed) in a flat bath. The aluminum plates are used once and recycled.
We then walked back to the printing press room:
In the center, flanked by the six presses, is a glassed-in area which holds the proofing and final assembly. From within the enclosure:
Shown here, 2.5 miles of clips shuttle the newspapers from the presses to the trucks:
Beneath the string of clips is one of the proofing tables:
Darrell explains to us the use of alignment dots, special codes for determining which press printed any particular newspaper, and some finer points about color matching.
On our way to the end of the tour, we stopped by the ink room:
This, the excess ink, is gathered by hand and recycled daily.
By this time, we were all overwhelmed by the scope of the operation, the impact of this publication and the staff who care so much and work as hard as they do. We moved down back to the lobby for a Q&A:
After a few minutes of discussion, Darrell ended the tour with the slightest smile, saying “I made it all up.”