How Woz helped start The Times



Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak’s appearance at Buena Vista University’s American Heritage Lecture last Friday reminded me how he was instrumental in the start of The Storm Lake Times in 1990.     

Wozniak, his partner Steve Jobs and the revolutionary Macintosh computer they developed in the mid 1980s allowed us to break into the newspaper business at a much lower cost than had previously been possible.

The Macintosh ushered in the revolutionary and affordable era of desktop publishing. Until then, it was necessary to invest in proprietary and highly specialized typesetting equipment that was dominated by a company called Compugraphic. A new Compugraphic typesetting machine cost about $28,000, as I recall. We would have needed one for “straight matter,” which would set type in long columns, or gallies, and another to set larger type for headlines and ads. We couldn’t afford the more than $50,000 it would have taken to buy those machines. Compugraphic also needed skilled operators. The Macs could be used by anyone who could type and point a mouse.

Our first computer.

So we turned to the newfangled world of Macintosh desktop publishing. Now the Mac is the standard of the graphic and publishing industry, but in 1990 the Mac was considered a toy and looked down on by publishers who had large investments in the old legacy publishing technology. Many newspapers still used hot metal type spewed out by the monstrous old Linotype machines.

Each of the three Macs I bought cost about $3,000, as did the black and white scanner and laser printer — $15,000 in all. Now, of course, you can buy a desktop computer thousands of times more powerful for $1,000. A combination color printer/scanner/fax sells for just $200.

Those early Macs had no internal hard drives. You started the computer by inserting a floppy disk, loading the program, then ejecting the program disk and inserting a data disk to save your work periodically. You repeated this disk-switching when prompted by the computer as its memory filled.

At the time what we had was pretty hot stuff. And groundbreaking as well. We were the first newspaper in Iowa — and one of the first in the nation — to be laid out entirely on a computer, a process called pagination. In less than 10 years basically all of the publishing industry followed our lead and transitioned to desktop publishing. Although PCs have made inroads into the graphic arts, Macs still dominate in the publishing, online, broadcasting and motion picture businesses because of Apple’s superior graphics capabilities.

The Storm Lake Times has continued to be a trendsetter in technology. After we brought in our own press, we installed a computer-driven platesetter to produce the printing plates for our press directly from computers, bypassing the need for paper paste-ups and shooting those pages on film using giant cameras. The platesetter saved us huge amounts of time and money. We were the second newspaper in Iowa to use a platesetter — after the Des Moines Register. That machine wasn’t cheap; it cost $100,000 and lasted for nearly 12 years. When it was time to replace it and our aging press (and pressmen) four years ago, we decided it was time to let someone else print our paper.

We still have those original Macintosh computers with their tiny 9” screens, compared to the 22-inch screens we work on today, but those early Macs aren’t even good as boat anchors today. We have one on display next to our 1940s era Remington manual typewriter. Kids who have never seen a typewriter love to push the keys and watch the letters fly up out of the inside of the old iron machine.The quiet clicks of computer keyboards can’t match the excitement of the frantic clackety-clacks of a newsroom full of typewriters.

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