Dave pushed a button, and bands of newsprint rolled through the press. Black, red, yellow, and blue ink soaked the front page of the Duxbury Reporter. Out came words reporter Andria wrote at 5 a.m. that Thursday morning in September 2006 – the day I came in and the movers had taken my chair and the last day the press ran at Memorial Press Group Newspapers.
About 8:30 p.m. Charlie, Scott, and I opened the pressroom door. We each held a bag filled with six packs of beer – a gift from Editorial to the Pressroom. I balanced my bag on my hip, and Charlie made a tabletop from a large roll of press paper.
Dave and Bill, both of whom would be out of a job that Friday after working in the pressroom for decades, started the penultimate run. Charlie stayed close to Dave and took photos as often as the camera would let him. On his way toward Bill, Charlie turned to me and said, “This is history.”
But as we watched the press guys, there was no grandstanding or complaining. They worked. They hopped between machines to calibrate; they quickly thumbed through the first run to note where they needed to make adjustments, fixed jams, and stacked papers flying down the conveyor belt.
During a slow moment, Dave pulled his cap off and ran his hands through his hair. Behind him, the machines sliced the double-width pages and folded the completed paper in half.
Scott and I picked up a Duxbury Reporter that Bill had thrown in the recycling bin. I read Andria’s story about an American soldier going back to serve in Iraq.
“That’s a good lead,” I said to Scott. He nodded, said, “Good-bye,” and tossed it back in the bin. He put his hands on his hips, and I rubbed his back.
On the wall beside the press, were prints where pressmen had wiped ink off their hands. It looked like cave paintings in Lascaux, France. Looking at it, you could hear their hands smacking the wall. I asked Charlie to photograph it.
The press sped up. Bill scooped finished bundles faster and placed them on a lift.
Then the run slowed, and Duxbury was done. I watched the press give birth to its last: a black-and-white commercial paper.
It was small and finished quickly. Boom… Boom… Boom… Boom…Hiss…, like a balloon losing human-blown air, then silence.
No one spoke. Dave turned toward Charlie, Scott, and me and said, “Well, that’s it.” He wiped his tools, threw them in a toolbox, and looked around.
Music that couldn’t be heard over the machines earlier still played. Some Classic Rock song. Dave excused himself and went to wash his hands and change. We talked for about twenty minutes after he returned, and then he said he was going home. We turned the lights out, and it was done.
I grew up in Plymouth with the Old Colony Memorial, MPG’s flagship weekly in “America’s Hometown.” For years, the slim broadsheet sat on our dining room table, decorating it, and I read it like I read anything covered in words put in front of me. When I was born, my arrival was announced in it; when I made the Honor Roll, I was listed in the Schools section. I never thought about the effort that went into it though – the sixty-hour work weeks, the parade of late-night, small-town meetings, and the phone call made to a mother in Halifax whose five-year-old daughter died. Next to the other, bigger-name choices in the newspaper rack at the grocery store, it always seemed minor.
In the summer of 2006, GateHouse Media bought and then dissolved MPG. At the time, I had been working for them as a full-time reporter for six months. We then were folded into our main competition, Community Newspaper Company, a mammoth-sized bunch of dailies and weeklies we regularly made fun of at staff meetings or brought back stories about jumping in front of their photographers at events. Two-thirds of the MPG employees were laid off. Barbara. Cheryl. The smiley, blond girl in Advertising. People I knew. People I didn’t.
The last Friday night in the Long Pond Road building, Editorial drank hard. Even the tiny Obits lady. I remember Rich Harbert, our senior writer, shirt-sleeves rolled, gesturing with a bottle of tequila. We talked about hiking. I said I was going to do the Appalachian Trail Goddamit, and he told me I reminded him of his friend, Wolf – some crazy daredevil bastard in Texas who probably should have died twenty times over. Behind Rich were blinds that someone had snapped. Maybe during the wheelie chair races that afternoon. Maybe during the toilet paper fashion show.
In that beige room with clustered, miss-matched 1970s newsroom style desks, we felt the loss of a local voice that night. We were protective of everything that seemed in danger of being processed through a corporate machine. Charlie, the OCM editor, and Wes, our chief photographer, left at one point to get beer. They drove across town, toward Long Beach and Sandwich Street, to Bradford’s Liquors. When they returned, I said, “Charlie, why didn’t you just go to the Pilgrim whatever it’s fucking called liquor store in the plaza across the street?”
“Because Bradford’s is my liquor store,” he said. “They’re local. It’s all about community, Sarah – our community.”.