Once upon a pub night

The last issue of our school paper came out this Thursday. Over the past four semesters, I’ve been through the joys and frustrations of working on staff, and I’ll be taking a break next semester as I intern in Washington, D.C.. So, when asked for one of my English classes to describe a vivid event I couldn’t help but choose pub night, the busy Tuesday evening we use to put the paper together.

Excuse the length, but in case you were wondering here’s a snippet of what it’s like to be on a small college newspaper staff.

Jennings 209 is usually a dark, empty space reserved for an army of Mac desktops and campus newspaper archives, but not tonight. It’s pub night. Unlike the booze and cigarettes associated with its name, this Tuesday carnival begins at 3 p.m. with the mild trickle of editors sliding in to start the marathon of printing pages.  Click, click, click. The snapping of keys seems never ending amidst the chatter of news-hunting students huddled in the small red room.

Preparation for this Tuesday night circus starts at least two weeks before with a Sunday evening story meeting. The five sections, News, Perspectives, Sports, Arts and Entertainment, and Life, are each represented. Two editors for each section sit in burgundy rolling desk chairs waiting to defend their story proposals like criminals put on trial.  Not every idea is worth print. The bad ones must be weeded out.

“Is anybody printing?” a voice shouts in the small ruby room. A little more than two weeks later, after an hour of placing each story into the puzzle of pages with paper and pencil and at least another hour piecing them together on the glowing computer screen, the stories that have proven their worth spit out of the printer for the first time. Waiting for the enlarged paper of my section’s first page to slide free from the jaws of the massive, frequently jammed printer, I close my eyes to take a brief rest from the words that will be swimming constantly in front of me for the next eight or nine hours. I belong to Arts and Entertainment, and Elizabeth, my co-editor, sits silently focused like a hawk waiting for its prey. She is writing headlines for our other two pages, my least favorite task. Masterfully, she fits strong subject-verb phrases into spaces not much wider than the tiny iPods connected by thin white lines to the ears of the three copy editors.

Elizabeth and I are not the only duo clicking, moving, and editing away at our slave-driver screens. Four sets of two sit squinting, moving blocks of text around like a Tetris game, whispering tips to each other on how to make the stubborn pieces fit. Our design editor flits around reminding us there are rules. We only work our stories into squares and rectangles. No “L’s” or “U’s.’ Each article must fit perfectly into its own box. Like the rest of the staff, I vigorously stretch and cut each story to fit. “Everybody hit sa-ave!” shouts Erica, the design editor, as she scatters from duo to duo answering each section’s questions and correcting our visual blunders.

A1, A2, A3, A4, A5, A6, B1, B2, B3, B4, B5, B6 reads the list up on the squeaky white board written in neon blue ink. Check marks grace a select few of the twelve pages that will complete the eleventh issue of this school year’s paper. Perspectives has printed a page. News has printed a page. Life and Arts and Entertainment have printed two. Sports… “Where’s Sports?” is the question being muttered around the room. Alex and Josh make up the Sports team. Unfortunately, they are very illusive, which does not please the three executive editors who have to stay until they finish at 2 a.m.

Katie, our editor-in-chief and the ringleader of this hectic circus, sits regally in the back corner at the only table not covered in tangled wires of keyboards, mice, and computers copy editing in silence. Stray commas, typos, and unrefined headlines reflect in the lenses of her purple, thick-framed glasses. It is early in the night so she kindly directs us, pointing out each section’s problems, but we are left to perform the tightrope act of creating, fine-tuning, and finishing each page. She lets us shine tonight.

The hour hand on the belltower outside the room’s single window inches closer to 5 p.m., an hour past the deadline for each section’s first printed page. Sports nonchalantly slides in, greeted by a stern question from Katie: “Have you laid out your pages?”

“We’ve got an idea,” Alex mumbles, not seeing any problem with strolling in late.

“Well, Erica is coming over to help you,” says Katie, irritated by Alex’s inability to communicate and arrive on time. Erica hurries over to the two seats left for Sports. It is now her job to help determine where and how the stories and photos of baseball, golf, and basketball players will fit together.

An hour later, while Sports and Erica are still huddled around two computer screens, a small crowd of people surge in to help with any tedious tasks. The apathetic students required to attend an hour for Dr. Chute’s pub seminar class sit vacantly waiting for some small chore from the editors. Most sit in a cluster, chatting with each other or staring at the small screens of their cell phones wishing they were anywhere but in the active ruby room that is home to the editorial board. The prayers of the uninterested clan are answered when Katie shouts from her table, “Can two people who aren’t doing anything go downstairs and help Dr. Chute?”

Up a flight of stairs and into the room comes what many of us have been waiting for: dinner. The distinct smell of dripping cheese, greasy slices of pepperoni, and warm tomato sauce waft from over a dozen brown and red boxes sitting on a table next to the door. Those of us clicking and toiling at our keyboards hit save, pause, and bow our heads to give thanks for the typical meal of most college gatherings.

After quickly consuming two slices of pizza, I return to my computer screen to reassess my section’s pages. It’s 7:20 and Elizabeth and I have printed almost all of our pages twice. The tedious editing process requires each of the pages to be printed and copy edited three times. Each one-page puzzle containing photos, articles, and headlines slowly travels from the computer screen to the printer to the copy-editing table by the window. Good news. No more major mistakes to fix in Arts and Entertainment. Stories no longer need to be moved from page to page. Each one has a home. Now Elizabeth and I just wait for the copy editor’s nitpicky corrections for spacing, typos, and word choice.

Wait. Wait. Wait. The Arts and Entertainment pages sit towards the middle of the pile as each of the four copy editors trudge through the other sections’ stories. Now is the time I sneak out for an hour to watch “Lost” and unsuccessfully attempt to finish a small bit of tomorrow’s homework. If Elizabeth and I are doing well, why not reward myself with a little break from the whirring of the seventeen computers crunching away at the information the editors and other staff members feed them?

Before I leave for my small trip down entertainment lane I grab a few snacks freshly delivered by the newspaper’s two advisors. They just arrived with round two of food. Brightly colored boxes of Skittles, Sour Patch Kids, Teddy Grahams and Goldfish sit waiting to be devoured by the staff of munchers still working on their pages. The sweet smell of candy floats through the air, but those more interested in their health flock to the plastic buckets of plump fruit and the platter of vibrant, crunchy vegetables. To keep us going through the long night, our advisors also brought a gracious gift of Starbucks, born from an earlier handwritten list littered with sundry orders for ventis, grandes, and talls. I grab my large iced passion tea and a handful of sticky gummy snacks as I head for the commons to enjoy my sixty minutes of escape.

“How’s it coming?” I ask upon my return, refreshed from an intriguing, action-filled episode and time with chatty friends.

“Well, there’s a problem with B1. The copy editors had a problem with our Variety Show photo story. Too many Greeks, and one girl is in two of the four photos,” answers Eliabeth.

“I thought they’d say that.”

Wait. Wait. Wait.  Beth, our photo editor, finally chooses an image of an independent intensely swaying his arms on stage. I drop the new photo into the empty box on the screen, and Elizabeth helps me write a new cutline that fits. Problem solved.

Now the final corrections come in slow waves of Dr. Chute’s scribbled red ink. We are under the rule of the AP Style handbook. Several words need hyphens and we forgot to change “website” to “Web site.” With the click of a few keys and the strike of Apple-I to spell check, each page in turn becomes ready for the final step of the process. One last look over by Erica, our busy design queen, one more spell check and the page will be ready for its transformation from an InDesign file to a press-ready PDF.

I sit and watch while Erica checks the spacing between each story, making sure none of the articles feel cramped while all the other sections beg for answers to their questions. This last step takes patience. We all want to leave. We all have classes with homework due tomorrow, but the newspaper must be finished and it must be finished well. Finally, each of Arts and Entertainment’s three pages on the white board has three check marks and the beautiful letters “PDF” marked beside them. Arts and Entertainment’s duty has been completed. Life left half an hour ago, but Sports, News, and Perspectives are left in the burgundy chairs to type and copy edit. Elizabeth and I announce our accomplishment, say our goodbyes, and grab a few snacks for the short walk home. A little less than two hours from this point the remaining morsels of food will be packed up, the lights in Jennings 209 will go down, and the rest of my comrades will leave the pub lab for their soft pillows and cozy covers.

It is past midnight as I stroll down the sidewalk with tired eyes, weary and strained from staring at 10-point text for eight hours. However, I am satisfied. I am a small part, one of twelve editors and many staff writers, of one quality campus newspaper. Our system has kinks and personalities clash, but we work together to produce a fine, honest paper. Not for another two days will we see the beige and black fruit of our labor, but we already know in this clear, quiet night that our reward is not the print we produce but the patience we gain from working together.

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8 thoughts on “Once upon a pub night

  1. Rockin’ story! I never really visualized how the pub nights play out. Thanks for sharing a slice of your life.

  2. Whitney, I just now read this (which is probably good, a few weeks distance from pub night does wonders) and I lol-ed 🙂

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