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Hot off the presses

April 16, 2008 |  6:00 am

What's in The Times gets its fair number of comments and criticisms, but so does the paper itself. The physical thing that readers (of the print version) hold, that is. And readers ask the darnedest questions. The question from Tom Tetzlaff of Lake Forest ended up being sent on behalf of his rabbit: "I'd heard that The Times was printed using soy ink ... even the color photos? Obviously the inserts you don't have complete control over. Need to know."

The short answer: Yes. The longer answer is found on a link off latimes.com:

http://www.latimes.com/services/newspaper/mediacenter/la-mediacenter-environment,0,3740699.story

Tetzlaff's note of thanks for the link included a postscript. "Not to give you the impression that we don't READ The Times (we do),  we just wanted to know if our rabbit could make bedding out of it after we're done with a copy. Another way of recycling."

Husbandry aside, there are other questions from readers who prefer to get their news on paper. Some complain when they end up with dirty hands. Lay off the hand lotion till you're done reading, advises Greg Malcolm, director of operations. Even the water-soluble soy-based ink, which is highly resistant to rub-off, does sometimes leave avid readers with gray hands.

On the other hand (so to speak) are those readers who complain that the ink is too light.

Malcolm explains. "During the printing process, production crews continually monitor ink density in attempts to maintain the proper level. Adjustments are made throughout the printing process, which may result in a slight variation getting released to the end user or consumer from time to time. We strive to prevent this from occurring."

Malcolm addresses one other occasional frustration for some readers: Wrinkled pages, which, Malcolm says, "occur for various reasons during the printing process. The most common cause is a buildup of ink on the rollers the paper travels over during the production process. Our production crews work hard to reduce or eliminate most wrinkles. However, some may get produced as adjustments are being made to the press."

Does the production department end up throwing out papers that are too light, too dark, too wrinkled? Says Senior Vice President of Operations Russ Newton, "More than I like! Newsprint is the second highest expense item at The Times -- only employees cost the company more. On top of that, prices have increased over 20% in the last year, putting more pressure on the production crews to save as much of this precious commodity as possible."

The Times is produced on seven to 11 presses during the week; Newton outlined the process. "Typically, when a press is first started up, 1,200 to 2,000 copies are tossed before the first good paper is released. This is a matter of judgment by the press operator as to what is ‘good enough’ to release. The longer and faster the press runs, the better the quality gets. So most of our complaints and quality issues come from the first papers off. If something happens during the run that makes the paper unacceptable, the press people flip a switch that dumps papers until the problem is resolved. This is all happening at very high speeds, so quick action is required. From a roll of paper to a completed paper on the back of the truck happens in less than three minutes, so there isn’t a lot of time to catch a problem when they do occur."

Information for those interested in touring L.A. Times' production facilities can be found at this link:

http://www.latimes.com/services/newspaper/mediacenter/la-mediacenter-tour,0,1975864.story

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