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We should be thankful to have a local paper: Susannah Gal

Posted 2/8/19

This is the month for recognizing those you love or appreciate. This month, I am appreciating our local newspaper, the Press & Journal, in my column. This month I wanted to recognize how much …

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We should be thankful to have a local paper: Susannah Gal

The plates that create the colors you see in the paper aren't aligned on the left but have been fixed on the right.
The plates that create the colors you see in the paper aren't aligned on the left but have been fixed on the right.
Posted

This is the month for recognizing those you love or appreciate. This month, I am appreciating our local newspaper, the Press & Journal, in my column. This month I wanted to recognize how much I’ve learned during my time at the paper.

I started writing this column in October 2016 and have done it monthly for just about every month since. I’ve written about all kinds of things — experiences, people, activities and observations. I’ve really enjoyed doing this, sharing some of my thoughts with people in the community.

Several people I’ve met or heard from since indicate how much they have enjoyed my columns. I’m very grateful for this opportunity to write regularly.

In 2017, I was asked to serve as a public member on the editorial board of the newspaper and I agreed, starting in August of that year. For this, we meet nearly every week to discuss the recent issue of the paper and talk about ideas for upcoming editorials.

At those meetings, I’ve learned a ton about Middletown history, some of the characters in town and what used to be in such-and-such building. I’ve been very impressed with how much thought goes into our discussions about possible editorials.

This group certainly takes its work and the product (the paper) very seriously. As I’ve only lived in our fair town 3 ½ years, almost all of this is new to me.

I’ve also grown fond of the staff and editors that work at the paper. Joe and Louise Sukle have a lot of history in the community and are super committed to this business and to our town. Nancy and the other ladies in the front office, and Laura Hayes and Dan Miller, the reporters, are all friendly.

Jason Maddux, the editor, has been patient with my sometimes late additions to his page and always creates the catchy headlines on my columns. And my fellow community member of the editorial board, Jay Howes, has a lot of knowledge about local farming and was kind enough to show us around his section of the Pennsylvania Farm Show. It’s a great group, and I’m glad to be associated with them.

One thing I asked to see was how they print the paper. I was able to do that for part of a Tuesday afternoon last month. It was a fascinating thing — involving chemistry, physics and quite a bit of artistic manipulation of the machinery.

Doug Senior and Gary Summers showed us how the electronic pages are burned on aluminum plates using a laser, then placed in vats of chemicals to remove all the areas without any “writing” or image. Then those sheets are placed on rollers in the printer, they are lightly coated with ink and rolls of paper are run by them to print the image. After printing, the rolls of paper are folded by another part of the machine, cut and assembled with the other pages of the paper into the sections we know. Watching the machine run was really fascinating to me; it wasn’t as loud as I thought it might be.

We also saw the printing of a color page. The colors that we see printed are actually made of dots of just three colors (magenta, yellow and cyan) plus black. For each color, you need a separate plate and a separate section of the machine with the appropriate ink. What was fascinating was to watch Doug manipulate the cylinders with the different sheets for each of the colors so the four plates containing magenta, yellow, cyan and black all lined up and were the right “strength” to provide the picture the editor wanted to produce.

Each time, they had to run several issues of the newspaper through the system to check whether the alignment was correct. Then Doug would tweak some knobs to adjust one of the plates and run a few more issues and check again. Finally after maybe 10 to 20 minutes of this tweaking, they were satisfied and printed the full batch of newspapers to be put in the mail or provided to stores in the area. I found it fascinating.

I heard a story on National Public Radio in December about the value of a local newspaper to a town. Three finance professors — Pengjie Gao from the University of Notre Dame, and Dermot Murphy and Chang Lee from the University of Illinois at Chicago — were interested in the comparison of the finances between towns with hometown papers and those without them.

They found that, “When a newspaper closed, the cost [for the town] to borrow money for projects like schools and roads and hospitals, went up.” Why might that be? Their hunch was that if a newspaper closes, their local investigative reporters are not evaluating the local government for mismanagement or waste, allowing governments to be inefficient and engage in “bad behavior” such as fraud or mis-use of funds.

An increase in the interest rates makes it more expensive for those communities to borrow money for projects, funding which can be in the millions of dollars. From the abstract of their research published in October: “Overall, our results indicate that local newspapers hold their governments accountable, keeping municipal borrowing costs low and ultimately saving local taxpayers money.” Thus, we’re super lucky in Middletown to have a local paper so that we can support the best activities of our local government and maintain the opportunity for the borough to borrow money at reasonable interest rates if they need. This can save money for us, the taxpayers of our community. I find that fascinating.

I, for one, am very glad we have a local paper. Where else could I publish my quirky style of writing and share some of my thoughts with you all. Thanks for reading!

Susannah Gal is associate dean of research and outreach and a professor of biology at Penn State Harrisburg, and is a member of the Press & Journal Editorial Board. She has lived around the world and made Middletown her home in 2015. She can be reached at susannahgal1000@gmail.com.