Editors in the old Observer office in Room SL-19. Now, these long production nights occur in Room G32 in the 140 West 62nd Street Building or on Zoom. (COURTESY OF JENNIFER MATTHEWS)
Editors in the old Observer office in Room SL-19. Now, these long production nights occur in Room G32 in the 140 West 62nd Street Building or on Zoom.

COURTESY OF JENNIFER MATTHEWS

Producing a Paper Over the Years

Editors recall ‘Simpsons’ characters, late-night jam sessions and technological leaps

May 9, 2021

40th anniversary stickerThe age of typewriters and X-Acto blades may have been over by the time The Observer celebrated its 25th anniversary, but the digital age was only beginning. The production process has seen a lot of changes in the last 15 years, from equipment upgrades to daily online publishing.

When Grace Martinez, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’06, was the layout editor, production was a long process. The team started on Friday and worked the whole weekend to get the paper ready to be printed on Tuesday night.

That meant articles were supposed to be submitted on Thursday to be on newsstands by the next Wednesday. Despite the early start, producing the paper would often go late into the night — sometimes even the next morning. “I do remember that one night where we spent the whole night there — it was from 7 p.m. at night to all the way the next morning. I remember coming out and everything was light outside,” Martinez said.

It was at this time that The Observer’s technological revolution really took off. When Martinez was the layout editor, she switched The Observer from designing the paper with QuarkXPress to Adobe InDesign, the same program used today. “I felt like InDesign was something that would be more useful for me but also for anyone who’s learning graphic design. That was projected to be the industry standard.”

Collaborative tools and the virtual cloud had yet to be created, so the team had to write and edit articles on Microsoft Word. This led to the inevitable problem of not knowing which computer a file was saved to. 

The solution? “The computers were named after characters from ‘The Simpsons.’ We had Seymour, Lisa and a few others,” recalled Anthony Hazell, FCLC ’07, a former editor-in-chief who now serves as the editorial adviser for The Observer.

“We would try to get stuff done as early as possible, but I feel like a 2 a.m. — if it was a terrible night, a 5 a.m. night — was pretty standard.”Jennifer Matthews, FCLC ’17

By the time Jennifer Matthews, FCLC ’17, started at The Observer in 2013, the arrival of Google Docs streamlined the editing process, as feedback could be left in comments and suggestions. A new server also connected all of the office computers, so a file saved on one could be accessed from any other. Instead of “Simpsons” characters, the computers were named only by which section of the newspaper used them. 

Production was also no longer an entire weekend event, with most of the work being done on Tuesday night for a Wednesday or Thursday placement on the newsstands. This allowed for breaking news to be published at the very last minute, but also for some very long nights in the office. 

“Tuesday would roll around, I would get a bunch of articles in the morning, and then I would literally just put them into InDesign all day, and it could last hours,” remembered Matthews. “We would try to get stuff done as early as possible, but I feel like a 2 a.m. — if it was a terrible night, a 5 a.m. night — was pretty standard.”

Now, many articles are published before production night even starts. Production nights are frequently over by midnight, as layout editors have at least some articles before they even begin designing pages. 

With the shift to an online-first publishing model in 2020, articles get edited on Google Docs and published on the website up to two weeks before they appear in print. The editorial board hasn’t even met in person to produce the paper since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic sent Fordham and The Observer entirely online. 

From March 2020 until March 2021, The Observer was produced over Zoom. Layout editors created PDF versions of the newspaper to be published on Issuu instead of printing physical copies to be distributed on campus.

“Online was an afterthought and had no dedicated web team every year like there is now. It was mostly left up to the editor-in-chief and managing editor to oversee.”Anthony Hazell, FCLC ’07

Learning how to design a newspaper entirely online brought its own set of challenges. Pamela Pajares, FCLC ’21, joined the layout staff for the first time in April 2020. “In-person, it is easier for someone to grab the mouse and show you precisely what you need to do, but over Zoom, they have to describe what icon you should click,” she said. 

Despite its difficulties, virtual production has allowed students to work on The Observer from anywhere in the world.

Pajares hopes that The Observer continues using Zoom to produce the paper after the pandemic is over. “I know that it is more fun to see each other in person, but Zoom meetings made it more accessible to work and communicate with each other in different parts of the country,” she said.

Though it has always been a long and stressful process, the late-night stupor of production is also when the best memories are made.

Online publishing is where many of the biggest changes at The Observer have occurred. In 2006, “Online was an afterthought and had no dedicated web team every year like there is now. It was mostly left up to the editor-in-chief and managing editor to oversee. We’d get through production night first. Then distribute papers. Then post articles online when we had a chance,” Hazell said. 

The Observer now has a designated team of online editors who design articles online and publish them to the website, Apple News and NewsBreak. Instead of having two thousand newspapers delivered to the Fordham campuses, The Observer is now read globally by more than 600,000 people per year.

Though it has always been a long and stressful process, the late-night stupor of production is also when the best memories are made. Matthews remembered once listening to “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift for four hours on repeat — without realizing it.

“At one in the morning, a missing comma in a sentence can quickly become the funniest copy mistake the editors at The Observer have ever seen,” Pajares said.

It is also when editors find their passions. “The Observer directly inspired me to continue working in editorial design. Working there helped me to find my passion and I feel so lucky that I was able to transform that into a career,” Martinez said.



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About the Contributor
Photo of ANDREW BEECHER
ANDREW BEECHER, Online Editor

Andrew Beecher, Gabelli School of Business ’21, is the online editor, photo editor emeritus and occasional writer for The Observer. He is a global business major concentrating in consumer insights with a minor in anthropology. If he's not staring at The Observer website, he's probably off canoeing, climbing or hiking somewhere with his dogs, unless there’s a Buffalo Bills or Sabres game on. His dogs’ names are Stella and Stanley, and both are his favorite.

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