Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Whatever happened to the Stop Press space in newspapers?

It's just an idle question. I used to be "newspaper monitor" at our family home when I was around ten years old. I used to run to the front door to pick up the bundle of papers delivered by the lad from our local newsagents. Thursday was particularly exciting because we got all sorts of magazines also delivered on that day - "Bumper Bundle" day.

I started to take an interest in the look and shape of newspapers. I even had a collection of notable papers at one point (First man on the moon, first tabloid Daily Mail, Last old Sun, first new Sun etc) but they seem to have evaporated.

One of the things which used to particularly interest me was looking at the "Stop Press" columns. These were the spaces left at the bottom of the front page for last minute "breaking news" (as they didn't used to call it then) to be printed in what looked like a "John Bull" printing set - sort of "stamped" on.
I can vividly remember what the "Stop Press" spaces looked like in the Daily Telegraph, the Western Morning News and the Western Evening Herald. (The latter was particularly exciting because I had to run to the newsagents at the end of our road, to buy it and I used to see it arriving in the van! Thrillsville!). I used to check them to see if they were left blank or had a news item on them - often the cricket score or closing stocks and shares prices.

On a sombre note, on one occasion I noticed that the Stop Press space in the Western Morning News reported the death of a child in my home town. My father quickly took the paper from me and hid it out of arms' reach. It turned out, tragically, that the child in question was a family friend.

Anyway, I haven't seen a "Stop Press" space on a newspaper for donkeys' years. I am not quite sure when they stopped having them. Presumably it is something to do with modern technology, which allows last minute items to be incorporated with the normal text. In my childhood days, they used "hot metal" so such incorporation of last minute items was not easy, presumably.

Which brings me to my childhood visit to my local paper - The Cornish and Devon Post - to see them setting the type in individual cast metal letters. I still have my name in such cast type. I also visited the Financial Times press in Fleet Street when I was a child. Ah! Fleet Street! The actual Fleet Street with newspapers in it. I remember that! We walked down and saw all the newspaper signs along the street.

Those were the days! When you entered a newspaper building you could smell the ink. That smell seems to have vanished altogether from newspaper offices these days, especially as most of the editorial offices are scores or even hundreds of miles from the printing works.

My love of newspapers was fuelled by a book I was given by my parents called "Discovering Newspapers" by Roy Perrot. Also, there was a television series on called "Adventure Weekly" on BBC TV which featured a gang of children who ran their own newspaper. I was glued to that. It had Joan Hickson in it.

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