Thinking Out Loud

January 31, 2017

Before Screens There Was Newsprint

Filed under: Christianity, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:26 am

From the time I was 20 to the time I was 30, four of my friends started Christian newspapers. In the times before screens, there was newsprint and anyone with minimal ability to do basic layout and the funds to pay a printer could have their very own outlet.

Oddly enough, the type of offset printing used to print newspaper was called web printing — or fully, web-fed printing, to distinguish it from sheet-fed printing — a term which has taken on a different meaning in the digital age. Most of us had worked on high school newspapers and understood the low-tech technology.

In a world where it seems that everybody has a handful of social media platforms on which to share their poetry or prose, their political views or their literary skills; it’s important to realize that those living in a pre-internet age had no fewer opinions or no less desire to see their words in print reaching a mass audience. (Also, unlike today, we knew how to insert paragraph breaks. But alas, I digress.) I had a byline at some point in each of the following ventures.

The first paper I became involved with started by friend Steve, who named it Deluge. On page four of each issue, we were reminded that “Deluge means flood…” but I can’t remember the rest of the purpose statement. The paper was officially published by the Toronto Christian Activist Forum, which to the best of my knowledge consisted of Steve. I don’t believe the group had held a meeting, or a forum, or done any activism, but I could be wrong. My job was to write music-related content. The 12-page paper was distributed free on college and university campuses at a time when a great host of other interest groups were also distributing newspapers. Together, we contributed to the demise of many forests.

delugeWhen Steve grew weary of the project, I took it over, dropping the activist group reference. The paper became wholly subsidized by a business I had started, and showed up at more Christian gatherings than college campuses, but basically consisted of advertising for music related products and events.

That caught the attention of a local concert promoter and radio program host, Gord who started the paper Triumph. Unlike the rest of us, Gord had a friend named Tom who was a professional graphic artist and was able to upgrade the quality considerably.

One of the people who worked on that paper was another Steve. He dreamed of doing something to reach the same basic audience — twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings — but on a national scale with rented commercial office space in the heart of downtown Toronto. His publication used the same type of web printing, but rather than a tabloid size, was printed in magazine form. The magazine was called Destiny. The idea was to focus on a much wider variety of interests; not just music.

Although it was a given that I would write for Destiny I was initially hired as advertising sales manager. This was based on the assumption that because I had been involved in writing for a variety of publications — both these and much larger U.S. magazines — I knew something about selling ad space. We now know that this assumption was somewhat flawed. Did I mention that during much of the time I was supposed to be traveling the city meeting with clients I was having to borrow my mother’s car?

Destiny had a truly beautiful layout concept, but the initial issue was printed on the same paper stock that had been used in each of the earlier ventures which gave rise to it. In other words, it was a magazine printed on newsprint. But not only that, it was a magazine that was somewhat ink-saturated, with the result that after only a few pages, one was leaving fingerprints on everything they touched.

Furthermore, the official launch issue of Destiny was shipped in bulk across the country to Christian bookstores who had not requested it. While there are ways to put a positive spin on negative-option or consignment sales; the particular retail climate of the day meant that store owners were not entirely receptive. Bundles of that first issue started returning, many of them unopened.

Eventually, while some nicer full-color issues on better paper stock appeared, the magazine wasn’t destined to survive long-term. It was at Destiny that I was asked to commit what I now see as a breach of writing ethics. Or maybe not. (You’ll have to tune in on Thursday for that story.)

The final venture with which I was associated brought things back to a more regional territory and was in fact sponsored by a local church. My friend Vince started Crosswalk — ah, that poor name, used to this day by so many ministries — which was the print outreach of a dynamic youth outreach in Toronto’s northeast suburbs. It was the product of a particular time and place; so many people talented in the arts producing music, writing and visual fine art. Minus the aspect of living in community, it was a smaller scale of what Chicago’s JPUSA was doing with Cornerstone magazine and Resurrection Band; and the house band at the coffee house ministry which sponsored the magazine was actually good friends and toured with Rez Band…

…And where you live there are similar stories. Visiting different cities and connecting with different youth ministries as an itinerant speaker, I would always pick up copies of whatever publications were stacked up on the lobby of the concert hall or church basement. If we really liked a graphic image we would literally cut and paste it. (Yes, the thing you know as Ctrl-V actually had an element of glue to it.)(Or command-V for you Mac users.)

These publications were the way we promoted our youth events, sold our t-shirts and shared our testimonies. When an issue was ready to go, we didn’t press a “publish” key, but took the finished layouts to a printer where we told they would be ready in 3-to-5 days. If you noticed a mistake after going to press, you couldn’t edit printed copies; you had to live with it. As for stats, if your copies were still lying in a pile a week later, you knew the response wasn’t great.

Later, a generation who worked on such things would move on to writing for denominational publications and national ministry organization newsletters; but there was nothing like the early days of just starting something, even if it left black fingerprints all over everything you touched.

 

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