Press flyboys Chris Taylor

What it takes to get your community newspaper to you

The Sooke News Mirror at the press

Every Wednesday, thousands of Sookies pick up a copy of the Sooke News Mirror to read over breakfast, at the office or take with them on vacation. But some might wonder: how does it get from the newsroom to the newsbox?

The story begins in 1976. A man by the name of Verne Percival and a small handful of associates started the Goldstream Gazette community newspaper that is still in existence today. At the time, all the printing was contracted out up island. Then, one day, they decided to take matters into their own hands.

“In ‘81 we started a press in Sooke to print our own papers,” said Percival.

The modern day “District of Sooke” was still considered a developing area in the early 80s according to the federal government, and he said there were forgivable loans available for startup businesses.

This was a time before traffic lights and gourmet coffee shops. Back then, “if you wanted to find a contractor you went to Mom’s Cafe,” chuckled Percival.

The Goldstream Press was located on West Coast Road beside the old library, and besides producing the Gazette it also took on printing duties for the Mirror and various other south Island papers. It ending up staying in Sooke for five years—the minimum stipulated time for a new business receiving the federal grant—and packed up for Victoria.

“Most of our print was in Victoria and surrounding areas, so it made more sense than staying in Sooke.”

Originally relocating to David Street, the press now resides off of Glanford Avenue in Saanich. Still keeping its original name, it continues to print the Goldstream Gazette, the Sooke News Mirror, and all the weekly and bi-weekly Black Press publications south of Duncan equalling a print run in the hundreds of thousands every few days.

The building is massive—giant cylinders each holding 1,000 kilograms of black ink are huddled in the corner, next to flat upon flat of piled up fliers waiting to be inserted into various titles. The whirring, buzzing and beeping of equipment stretching down the entire length of the hangar-like complex make conversations difficult, if not impossible, at times.

Running nearly all day and night long, a staff of about 70 people take on two 10-hour shifts from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m. and 4 to 6. They look after running the printing machines, inserting fliers, packaging up bundles, looking after deliveries and a myriad of other duties. Jeff Czar is the foreman who makes sure everything runs smoothly on the press side of things.

Once the weekly Sooke News Mirror is completed in its electronic form, it gets sent to Ladysmith Press, the other large Black Press printing press on Vancouver Island that handles everything north of Duncan. In addition, they also have staff and software to prep the electronic files for transfer onto plates—thin flexible sheets of aluminum that images of the individual pages of a newspaper are “burned” onto for printing.

The massaged files then get sent to a special room at the Saanich facility that houses a coffin-sized computer-to-plate transfer machine called the Kodak Trendsetter.

“We load our plates in here—so they’re just basically a blue colour with a coating that’s all over the whole thing. This has got a laser in here so it just burns on the image to the plate,” said Czar.

The plate is then baked at around 250 degrees, and then goes through a process that “takes off all the stuff where the laser hasn’t exposed.”

Each plate holds four separate pages of the paper. The plates are then wound into a machine that sprays them with water, which adheres to the laser-etched portions of the plate. Ink, separated into the four basic colours of cyan, magenta, yellow and black, rolls over the entire surface and sticks only to the wet areas. Enormous rolls of newsprint paper (one roll produces 20,000 copies) then get fed through, contacting the ink and spitting out finished pages in an endless whizzing strip.

“We print about 30,000 per hour,” he said.

The pages are then cut up into appropriate sizes, organized, stacked together, and then come down a conveyer belt where they are met by “flyboys” who stack them on skids. They get picked up, inserted through yet another machine where fliers are inserted and then everything is bundled up, loaded into awaiting vans, and ready for distribution.

And this happens 20 hours a day, 5,000-plus hours a year. For Czar though, who’s been in the industry since 1983, it’s just business as usual.