The printer

Once upon a time a publisher—let’s call him Charlie—and an editor—let’s call him Wally—put out a weekly newspaper.

For those of you unfamiliar with the ins and outs of newspapers, the publisher, who is either the owner or his representative, is the top dog, and the editor, who is a combination of janitor and errand boy, is usually his lapdog.

Wally’s relationship to Charlie, however, diverged somewhat from the norm and resembled a partnership more than indentured servitude. The reason was that Charlie had devoted his career to advertising, about which he knew much and Wally knew little, while Wally had devoted himself to journalism, about which Charlie knew little.

Again, for those who don’t have printer’s ink in their veins, it may be helpful to note that it takes both advertising and journalism to publish a successful newspaper.

A key professional link between Charlie and Wally was also a physical link: an aging printer with a distinct and troublesome personality of its own. Occasionally, this ancient beast purred pleasantly when asked to deliver copies of ads or stories and proofs of finished pages. The key word in this sentence is ‘“occasionally.”

Most of the time, however, the ornery printer had an inclination to show who the real boss was, and it wasn’t either Charlie or Wally. Sometimes, the printer would just stop working completely and seemingly permanently. Other times, it would operate like a charm until just before deadline and then, as the crucial minutes approached, turn itself off.

Charlie, who was not mechanically inclined but who did have more skills in that direction than Wally, would then abandon his advertising chores to wheedle and plead with the printer to resume its functions. Sometimes the printer agreed; sometimes it didn’t.

The printer was the most intimate connection between Charlie and Wally, something two very different personalities had to share whether they liked it or not, because without it both ads and stories could not be proofread and the pages to be sent to the printing press in Albuquerque could not be produced. They and the printer were a bit like the three musketeers: all for one and one for all.

Both the publisher and the editor needed the printer. They both cursed it. They both swore to assassinate the beast at the first opportunity. Over a before-deadline coffee or an after-deadline drink they shared their frustrations with the ornery machine that ruled their lives.

After years of this sort of thing, Charlie, who as the owner was also the money guy, found the cash to buy a brand new, expensive printer.

On what he described as one of the most glorious days of his life, he grabbed his gun and took the old printer out to a deserted field on the West Mesa, where he proceeded to do to it approximately what Dwight Eisenhower’s forces did to Adolf Hitler’s in World War II.

On that day Charlie and Wally both cheered. They would no longer have to collaborate in sweet talking the balky printer, in searching for emergency substitutes, in plotting ways either to make the blasted thing work or to do without it.

Lacking the necessity of collaborating in the face of a desperate destiny, Charlie’s and Wally’s own collaboration weakened a bit, and then weakened some more.

After a while, Charlie had the new printer working so smoothly that he felt he was no longer needed, and he eventually sold the newspaper to a national chain. It could afford to buy an even better printer, the highest quality, and maintain it in tip-top shape.

The chain’s local publisher, anxious to protect his fine printer and eager to assert total control of the production process, banned the editor from the printing room.

Wally then quit and started his own newspaper. It thrived despite the immediate handicap of his having to make do with no printer at all.

The result 20 years later: The Independent that you see before you today. And it all started with an obstreperous printer.

Or at least that’s one version of the story of the birth of a newspaper. There are, as always, many other stories.