Silicon Valley Sightings: San Jose Mercury News

San Jose Mercury

The web industry is part of an ecosystem, and one of the major families are the press, who get high level news out to the masses.

Last week, I had a meeting over at the San Jose Mercury, (map) one of Silicon Valley’s most well known technology newspapers. Every day they focus in on what’s happening in our industry, and do a great job of covering events, gathering viewpoints, and offering editorial insight from their columns in their opinions section. Check out the Good Morning Silicon valley blog for daily news.

There’s still a lot of concern over the print newspaper industry as layoffs continue to occur. In most cases, the online revolution has been a big impact, but we’re starting to see journalists use social media to find stories, and have supplementary blogs that provide greater depth than a printed column. A few journalists, like the opinionated Kara Swisher have figured out how not to just comment on the situation, but to actually lead a conversation –all using her blog.

I was really fascinated by the original linotype they had in the lobby, I was looking at all the contraptions it took to print, including looking at the keyboard that didn’t have a shift key, so there were characters for both lower and upper case. There were bands, pipes, gears, wires, outlets, sliders, and every possible mechanical device on this steampunk looking press, it really was impressive to see. Why this complicated machine? It actually printed out metal with characters on it, which would later be sent to the press.

Picture or Video 146Picture or Video 147Picture or Video 162Picture or Video 150Picture or Video 166Linotype keyboard, no shift keyPicture or Video 152Picture or Video 158Picture or Video 160Picture or Video 165

(Silicon Valley Sightings is an ongoing PhotoBlog that captures the intersection of Tech Culture in the San Francisco Silicon Valley Bay Area, check out the archives (which now showcase some tech areas in Asia). All photos by Jeremiah Owyang)

9 Replies to “Silicon Valley Sightings: San Jose Mercury News”

  1. Very nice machine – it’s a reminder that one day all computers, and not just Apple Lisas, will be on display in museums.

    They old Linotype operators had great skills in typing accuracy and spacing. I see designers these days making printout after printout checking their leading, kerning, etc. – the Linotype guys were doing this on the fly and in *hot lead*.

    Did they have any slugs (the line of type cast in lead) on display?

  2. Dave

    I didn’t see any slugs, but then again I wouldn’t know what to look for. Amazing how information was created and disseminated in these days.

    It gives me appreciation for how easily and can just leave a comment, like this one.

  3. My grandfather was a linotype operator. I think he would be amused that I am a writer using all these computerized tools.

    He used to bring us home slugs of “Bernoff” written out backwards in a block of type — you could use it as a stamp.

    The operators actually had to be good with English since they decided in setting the type where to hyphenate the words. When computer typesetting came in he would scoff since the hyphenation was so bad. (This was long after he had retired.) You still see weird hyphenations by computers.

    A bit of trivia. The operators sat on chairs on wheels. This was because occasionally the machine would jam and molten lead would come flowing out of the front of the machine. You had to be quick and roll back out of the way or you would get burned.

    He had burned his hands so often that he could handle anything hot from the oven without a potholder. Makes carpal tunnel syndrome sound mild by comparison!

  4. Hey Jeremiah,

    I have a great book called ‘Thinking with Type’, from which I learned some interesting bits of trivia to add to Josh’s contribution:

    1) “In a traditional printing shop, gridded cases hold fonts of type and and spacing material. Capital letters are stored in a drawer above the miniscule letters. Hence the terms ‘uppercase’ and ‘lowercase’ are derived from the physical space of the print shop.” (This explanation is accompanied by a terrific line drawing of upper and lower cases from The Hamilton Manufacturing Company.)

    2) ‘Leading’ isn’t, as I had mistakenly assumed, pronounced as in ‘leading someone by the nose.’ It rhymes with ‘bedding’ and it comes from the lead spacers the typesetters would use to vertically space the lines of text.

    Thanks for bringing this up! We really tend to take for granted the back-end processes that go into generating the information we so readily consume.

  5. Hi Jeremiah,

    “The web industry is part of an ecosystem, and one of the major families are the press.”


    The role of journalism in the innovation ecosystem is what the Injo program is all about.

    Strangely, this important point still remains to be recognized by the MSM. Which obviously opens a vast market to knowledgeable individual bloggers, like you.



  6. I finally found & photographed a Linotype slug I’ve had, it’s here:

    I got it from my Linotype rep at a trade show sometime in the 80’s. This form of typesetting was long gone by then so I knew I’d better hold on to this humble bit of metal.

    The web owes typesetting a debt – HTML was intially a subset of SGML (Standardized General Markup Language). SGML was intended to be a common ‘coding’ or markup language for digital typesetting systems. Every vendor had their own schemas, but SGML never took hold before the typesetting industry died off.

    Cheers, Andy

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