Back Issues: Out with the typewriters, into the computer age

Irish ex-patriate Alexander McMinn founded what we now know as the Manawatū Standard in 1880.

His career had started almost 20 years earlier. Aged 21, he was a pioneering newspaperman reporting on the New Zealand Wars for a London paper.

Seventeen years on, as editor of the Rangitīkei Advocate, McMinn was determined to publish his own daily, and The Manawatū Daily Standard was born in Palmerston North. It started out as a one-page morning paper, in direct and intense rivalry with its twice-weekly competition, Manawatū Times.

McMinn employed an ancient Goldfields press comprised of piecemeal second-hand parts. He manually handset every letter of every word into a metal typeplate, and roller inked the imprint onto each page. This was incredibly labour-intensive on both body and mind.

With a circulation figure near 1500 in 1881, he must have been delighted when technology improved and the hand-press was replaced with a steam-driven model. McMinn’s original press was melted down at a local foundry and made into street lamps for Palmerston North streets.

Alexander McMinn, front left, founder of the Manawatū Daily Standard, and sons.

Manawatu Heritage/Stuff

Alexander McMinn, front left, founder of the Manawatū Daily Standard, and sons.

In 1891, McMinn sold the Manawatū Standard to Frederick Pirani, who was later joined in partnership by his brother, David. They introduced a Kelly two-feeder flatbed press, putting an end to laborious hand composition.

Fred soon became active in local politics and was a Member of Parliament from 1893-1902. Unsurprisingly, his writing was strongly opinionated, with a liberal political bent.

In 1903, the brothers sold the paper to Norman Henry Nash and John Coombe. By 1907, now under the masthead, Manawatū Evening Standard, circulation had risen to 3300 copies per day.

Technology upgrades occurred frequently in those early years. A Swiss Duplex flatbed press in 1911 gave way to a two-cylinder Foster rotary press in 1922. In turn, this was updated within three years to a Hoe press.

Coombe sold his interest in 1935, to join The Dominion in Wellington. By 1939, circulation figures had increased to 7134 copies per day.

In the mid-1950s and again in the mid-1970s, modernisations were made to plant and presses. Most notably, a move from hot-press to cold-press printing.

Machine operators at work in the new typesetting ‘’bay’’, in 1967. The machines were used to make small blocks of print aimed at making newspaper compilation an easier job.

Manawatu Heritage/Stuff

Machine operators at work in the new typesetting ‘’bay’’, in 1967. The machines were used to make small blocks of print aimed at making newspaper compilation an easier job.

The Nash family remained in control until 1980, 77 years in total. It was a family affair with assorted children, in-laws and grandchildren owning shares and working in the business.

Nash’s son, James Henry, was the longest serving, with over 50 years service. He began in the editorial department at the end of World War I.

James, fondly known as the ‘‘Emperor’’, struck fear into the hearts of journalists. He was an absolute stickler for proper grammar and accurate reporting – often at the expense of lively writing.

However, they couldn’t continue funding technology changes and Independent Newspapers Limited (INL), with the support of Rupert Murdoch, took over. By 1985 circulation was over 26,000 copies per day.

Born and raised a state house kid in Taita, Lower Hutt, Adrian Broad’s first job in 1969, aged 17, was with The Dominion as an advertising cadet.

When he became general manager of the Manawatū Standard in 1987, he had accumulated 18 years in the newspaper industry.

During his tenure, until 1996, he felt privileged to have overseen one of the most dramatic changes in a century, the advent of computerised technology.

Adrian Broad with retired Manawatu Standard staff who were invited back to participate in the launch of the new printing press in 1988.

Stuff

Adrian Broad with retired Manawatu Standard staff who were invited back to participate in the launch of the new printing press in 1988.

Mostly, Broad felt fortunate to have worked alongside the staff of the Standard – legendary characters in the life of Palmerston North who made it a rich and fulfilling workplace.

When Broad came to the helm in 1987, the masthead had embarked on a $5.7 million technology and building upgrade programme. This was the result of dedicated planning that had started in 1985 under the previous general manager, Mike West.

The first stage was the commissioning of a $3 million press hall and the installation of a Goss Urban colour printing press. The massive blue machine was over 200 tonnes, 25.5m long, 7.5m wide, 8m tall, and was strung with 17km of electrical wiring.

The second stage involved a new two-storey building backing on to Jersey Lane and rebuilding and refurbishing the existing building on the Square, costing $1.1 million.

Plus, there was the introduction of an Atex editorial computer system, costing $1.6 million. A special 24-page Evening Standard supplement, Press Time ’88, was released to the public highlighting the scope of the project, its history, and the technological changes under way.

News editor Judith Tucker implemented systems changes in the newsroom in the late 1980s. Here she sits at her two-screen PC, the cutting edge of new technology.

Unknown/Stuff

News editor Judith Tucker implemented systems changes in the newsroom in the late 1980s. Here she sits at her two-screen PC, the cutting edge of new technology.

In 1989, the Standard was to become the seventh daily newspaper, nationally, to switch to a computer system of direct editorial input. Newspaper journalists typed their stories into the system using Atex computer keyboards and terminals.

All seven daily newspapers were members of the INL group, which had negotiated an agreement with printers and journalists to allow the introduction of the new technology.

Broad said it was a challenging time with printers giving up their exclusive right to set type, and journalists negotiating new conditions of employment for operating the new input system.

In April 1989, journalists at the Standard used computer technology for the first time in the production of the newspaper. As copies of the day’s first edition rolled off the press, editorial staff and management celebrated the culmination of four years of planning and training.

The Manawatū Standard’s community newspapers, the Feilding Herald, Tribune, Manawatū Herald, Central Districts Farmer, and Rangitīkei Mail, started producing on the new Atex computer system a week later.

Editor John Harvey said the new system would allow journalists to drive the production in a way they had been unable to before.

Community-minded Evening Standard staff supported and sponsored many Palmerston North groups and events, including the annual Christmas parade.

Stuff

Community-minded Evening Standard staff supported and sponsored many Palmerston North groups and events, including the annual Christmas parade.

In addition, news editor, Judith Tucker, editorial representative on the system’s implementation team, said the editorial team handled the change with little difficulty. Both Harvey and Tucker agreed the build-up to the changeover was tense, but all the nerves were worthwhile.

Broad said in 1989, the introduction of the new technology in editorial would be quickly followed in the advertising department and that the continuing building programme reaffirmed the company’s faith in the region’s economy. He also praised the work of all staff during some difficult times.

Adding that he believed they had an excellent way for advertisers to promote their businesses. Stylex Print was also an important part of the Manawatū Standard Group, providing business in the region with their commercial printing requirements.

The Manawatū Standard has brought long and honourable traditions of management and leadership in Palmerston North and the wider Manawatū. Its citizens can be proud of their daily newspaper and the contribution it has made over the past 143 years,” Broad said.

Tracey Armstrong is team leader of heritage at Palmerston North City Library.

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