Remembering 158 years of newspapers printed in New Plymouth video

Fairfax NZ

The Taranaki Daily News press will be closing on Saturday after 158 years of of printing onsite. Taranaki newspapers will be now printed in Petone.

Even when former Taranaki Daily News editor Lance Girling-Butcher went to sleep his work would find its way into his subconscious.  

"What a lot of people don't know is that I can hear the press from my bedroom," he says of the whump, whump, whump of the massive Uniman printing press churning out editions of the Taranaki Daily News at 1.30am six times a week for the last 20 years.

The men behind the newspaper.  When everyone else had gone to bed Chris Carter, Stephen Munro, Joe Zimmerman, Gary ...
Charlotte Curd

The men behind the newspaper. When everyone else had gone to bed Chris Carter, Stephen Munro, Joe Zimmerman, Gary Barker, Graham Arthur, Joe Mundt and Kieron Evans and the Uniman press were responsible for making sure all the stories of the day made it onto paper.

"When the press starts rolling there is a bit of an inevitability about it," he says.

"If I had written something that I was worried about or thinking on, when I heard the press start I would always think, oh well there is nothing I can change now."

Last night was the final time Girling-Butcher would have heard that press, would have felt that inevitability. After 158 years of being printed in New Plymouth, from Sunday the Taranaki Daily News, will be put to paper 354 kilometres away at a Fairfax printing hub in Petone.

The 1979 Air New Zealand Mt Erebus disaster remains one of the biggest stories to have come off the printing press at ...

The 1979 Air New Zealand Mt Erebus disaster remains one of the biggest stories to have come off the printing press at the Taranaki Daily News.

READ MORE: Taranaki Daily News to be printed in Petone from Sunday

It's a move that should actually go largely unnoticed except that it will produce a better paper for readers and advertisers with colour on every page and sharper, more true-to-life pictures.

It will also come at a cost of 23 jobs, though in an industry constantly integrating new technology and methods of production the move is largely inevitable, especially as the media industry cuts costs and seeks efficiencies to a business model increasingly integrating digital products.

Staff at the Taranaki Daily News were called back into work in the middle of the night to get news of the September 11 ...
SEAN ADAIR / Reuters

Staff at the Taranaki Daily News were called back into work in the middle of the night to get news of the September 11 terrorist attacks onto the front page just hours after it happened.

Regardless of how long such a move has been on the radar it marks a significant spiritual shift for the Taranaki Daily News, which has a proud history of self-reliance and innovation and a near-perfect record of just one edition out of 49,000 not making it off the press.

That record often took the effort of everyone on staff to keep, but making sure the paper got out on time and with as few errors as possible was everyone's responsibility, Girling-Butcher says.

"When Synfuel at Motonui opened we ran a huge supplement and there as was a mistake in the publication. There was a 'not' that shouldn't have been there so whole staff had to turn out with black markers and black out the not," he says.

If it wasn't blacking out there were times staff were woken from their beds to come to work to help pack, wrap or stack the papers. Times they were called back in to help make deliveries through rain, hail and even snow. Once the general manager had to spend his Christmas day on the press to get one of the first Boxing Day editions out.

Printing centre manager Gavin Vickers has overseen the running of the press for the last 20 years. He was the man with the overall responsibility of making sure there was a paper to deliver each morning. If things went wrong it was Vickers who had to come up with a solution. In his job there was no room for excuses.

Fittingly he began with Taranaki Newspapers as a 12-year-old delivery boy. From that early employment he worked his way up the ladder and back from the letter box for 37 years, the last two decades of which have been spent with the Uniman press, the now defunct machine he and his crews have spent so many of their working hours coaxing into submission six times a week.

"It's not the machinery or equipment or the process that will be sad to not be involved with anymore, but the people you work with. They are what make it work so well. That's what I'll really miss," he says.

The press crew are a special collection of characters. They start work when most other people are going to bed. They are often covered in ink and grease and have the look of rip, shit and bust mechanics but are highly skilled perfectionists, continuously tweaking nobs, dials and cylinders to make sure the newspaper is as good as it can be.

"Our unwritten law is 'Other industries can hide their mistakes, we print ours '," Vickers says.

Now a media veteran, Vickers counts the Erebus disaster in 1979 as when he truly felt the gravity of his part in getting the paper out.

"The story came to us piecemeal. First they couldn't find a plane. Then it was a plane that had been going to the Antarctic. Then it was established that it may have crashed. You could feel the whole news thing building through the evening until it was confirmed it had crashed and there were probably no survivors. Holy smack," he says.

"Because it was a New Zealand plane full of New Zealanders you really felt that there was probably someone you knew who was lost. It was my first encounter with how important it is to get the latest news to people so they knew exactly what was going on."

Like Vickers, print and publishing supervisor Graham Arthur has spent the best part of four decades working nights to get the Taranaki Daily News printed onto paper.  

In his time, there was just one occasion when the paper didn't come out. It was Friday 13 November, 1999 when an electrical fault shut the press down and, for once, it could not be fixed.

'It was the only time in the history of the paper that the Daily News didn't get printed," he says.  

The next day the press crew left for Hamilton and for the following week printed the paper on the press at the Waikato Times.  

"We were printing our paper and getting it back to Taranaki in time to be delivered. Readers would not have even known we were printing it in Hamilton," Arthur says.

As printers one of their proudest moments sprung from the 2001 September 11 terrorist attacks in New York.  It was one of the few times the much quoted but rarely said "stop the press" was uttered.

The call came at 12.40am, more than an hour after the paper had been "put to bed", the term used to describe when everything but the printing of the paper is done.

"I had finished for the night and was at home, playing cards on the internet with some Americans when one of them commented that radio news was reporting an explosion at the World Trade Centre," says veteran news editor Steve Anker.

"I switched on a news channel on the TV literally minutes after the impact and watched in amazement as a second plane circled and ploughed into the other tower.

"I grabbed the phone and alerted the late duty sub editor Alan Penfold. Over the next hour or so we watched the biggest news event in 50 years unfold."

To make sure it got into the paper for that morning, staff were called back into work, the existing front page was ripped up and everything was started again.

"It was a great feeling to see the Taranaki Daily News on the news stands the next day with a screamer headline - TERROR FROM THE SKIES - with a big picture.

"Our opposition papers from Wellington and Auckland had missed the story in their country editions because of their early deadlines. That was an even better feeling.

"Next day we came in at nine and set about producing a lunchtime edition of the Taranaki Daily News. That was another first."

Anker said it would take some getting used to not having a press on the premises.

"I never got sick of the feeling you get when you see the press running. You could go home to bed, secure in the knowledge that all was well with the world. "

 - Taranaki Daily News


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