ALBANY — The done-deal sale of this building at 126 N. Washington St. — the Rosenberg Building, where I’ve spent way too much of my lifetime — was completed weeks ago. For me, though, I think it just became real this week.
At the urging of Albany Herald President Scot Morrissey, I went into the adjacent (now former) Herald building that fronts on Pine Avenue on Friday to check out the progress of the dismantling and removal of The Herald’s press. A short period into what workers say they expect will be a four-week job, the massive press that for so long used ink and paper to magically bring the writings and accounts of reporters both talented and not-so-talented to thousands upon thousands of readers in southwest Georgia was in the process of being taken apart, two guys — Scott Payne and Monty Sandefur — taking on the dirty job.
I couldn’t help but think of the late nights Danny Carter, Jim Hendricks, Vicki Harris, MiChelle Philp, Emmanuel Freeman, Sarah Bembry, Daniel Shirley and so many more over the years made that darkened journey into the pressroom, hearing the warning bells that meant the press was about to start up.
And, with a magic that only someone with news ink in their blood could truly appreciate, watching, transfixed, as waist-high rolls of newsprint, slowly at first but always picking up speed, started rolling out paper over plates secured to the press. Gauges were checked, levels corrected, photo registration eyed as the contraption gathered speed.
Then — and this was my favorite part — perfectly sized editions of The Albany Herald, laid out in neat rows with enough overlap that only the masthead showed, started coming off the press onto a conveyor belt that carried the papers up, overhead, seemingly defying the laws of gravity, to the delivery folks waiting the next room over.
I’d reach down and take a copy of the paper, anxious to see how the photos turned out, how the design of the pages caught the eye and — a little egoism here — to see my byline on a story that I was proud of. I don’t know how to explain that phenomenon to someone who doesn’t do this job as more than a way to make a paycheck, but it never ceased to fascinate me.
On many nights — or afternoons if there was an early preprint run — I’d go down to the pressroom and watch this big behemoth of a machine run, the giant rolls of paper roaring by so fast it was impossible to keep up. And always — every single time — I was amazed that all this wizardry turned into a newspaper, the nonhuman thing that had most fascinated me in my life. When life dealt me a blow, I found comfort in the running of those presses.
I got to know the pressmen, hung out with them and talked with them about things that had nothing to do with this business. But I also asked them questions about the job they did, trying not to let my little-boy enthusiasm give away that I was thrilled by what they did but failing every time. I remember when the suits here announced that the press was being shut down, that the printing of the paper was being outsourced, that these pressmen — some with decades of experience in that pressroom — were losing their jobs.
I went off to myself and cried.
Now, Payne and Sandefur, working for a company out of Missouri, are, piece-by-piece, dismantling The Herald’s press. That makes this pending move from 126 N. Washington all too real.
Time marches on. You can’t stop progress. You change with the times or you die. Pick a cliche ... they’re all true. But that doesn’t mean you can’t mourn one more time something that has defined your professional life. And it doesn’t mean you can’t reminisce about and remember the good men and women who answered what I’ll always believe is a noble calling.
A few years down the road, the number of people who’ll remember this as “The Herald Building” will start to shrink. And one day, the few who remain will be eyed with that jaundiced appraisal we save for the poor saps who try to hold on to something that’s nothing more than a ghost. I’ll be one of those poor saps, happy — and yet sad — in my reverie.