Herald-Dispatch turns page, closes faithful printing press


Elayna Conard

The Herald Dispatch’s built-in printing press churning out one of its final editions, April 1, 2016.

Not too often is it said that Huntington, West Virginia is home to an item that is one of its kind. However, The Herald-Dispatch houses an original letter printing press that is said to be the only one like it still operating in the world.

The letter printing press is a model from the 1950s and is comprised of 17 units that weigh 14,000 pounds per couple. The printing press remained in use until Sunday.

The longevity of the printing press was due to the engineers who were able to fix parts to keep it in use. “What we got into is getting supplies to keep it running…the parts are being made just for us and there is no research and development going into the parts so the printing press is not going to get any better,” said Dave Hamilton of The Herald-Dispatch.

The Herald-Dispatch has exhausted different efforts in maintaining the letter press. The letter press far out-lived its time and became an expensive piece of equipment to keep in operation.

“One single color of one page costs us $6.60 for a plate,” Hamilton said. “The process in Charleston is about a $1.50 for the same image.”

Advancement in technology progressed the letter printing press away from engineers and into the computer age. The letter printing press in the 1950s required the operation of well over 40 engineers. With time and technology, the letter press required the man power of just 8 or 9 operators.

Vernon Lovejoy was a pressroom operator and manager for many years. He understands the effect technology has on skilled work-place jobs and the transition one has to make to be able to maintain a job in today’s high tech world.

“I have been a teacher all my life here (The Herald-Dispatch) with everything…you have to be very strong-willed accepting change every day of the week,” Lovejoy explained. Lovejoy has seen technology have a role in the newspaper business by changing The Herald-Dispatch, for example, from a 400 employee business down to currently just 130 employees.

With the closing of the letter printing press at The Herald-Dispatch, 9 engineers lost their jobs. Most of the engineers were able to transition into retirement.

When the Charleston Daily Mail and the Charleston Gazette combined papers, a press window opened up that gave The Herald-Dispatch an opportunity to print off of a newer and more efficient press in Charleston.

It is helping Charleston by providing the newspaper with more income while also allowing The Herald-Dispatch to print its papers for a lower cost and higher quality than that of what the old letter press was able to produce. The Herald-Dispatch signed a contract with the Charleston Gazette-Mail to obtain a press window from the press.

“So far the joint venture is going flawlessly,” Hamilton said.

The only sacrifice The Herald-Dispatch faces in the joint venture is in deadlines. The writers for The Herald-Dispatch will finish stories and page layouts and send them electronically by computer to the production facility in Charleston the night before the daily paper runs.

Dave Hamilton said The Herald-Dispatch is excited about printing a paper of higher quality because of the opportunity for increased readership and more advertising.

“I don’t think we really know what impact our (previous) quality has had on us over the years,” Hamilton reflected.

The Herald-Dispatch is planning to keep the original letter printing press in the lower level of their building until a decision can be made what to do with the machine. For now, Huntington is home to a treasure that lived longer than expected.

Elayna Conard can be contacted at [email protected].