David Day opened a drawer Sunday night and pulled out a Columbus Dispatch dated Aug. 4, 1994.
“Clinton bends on health plan,” was the headline across the top of the wide front page. President Bill Clinton was in his first term.
“I have the first paper I printed,” said Day, holding it up, clearly proud of the work he was a part of then and for years after.
He’ll have keepsakes from Sunday night, too.
Thirty years ago this past January, The Dispatch began printing on the Far West Side of Columbus. On Sunday night, the last Dispatch to be printed in Columbus, a 50-page edition, was produced in that facility.
Monday night will be the first time in more than 148 years that The Dispatch has not been printed in Columbus. The paper will be printed on presses at a sister Gannett printing facility at the Indianapolis Star, and The Dispatch will move from compact format to a traditional broadsheet.
“We work to serve readers in whatever form they want to receive the news – in print, online, on a tablet or on their phones,” said Dispatch Editor and Interim General Manager Alan D. Miller. “The printed paper remains an important part of our continuum of coverage, along with Dispatch.com, BuckeyeXtra.com and our mobile app.
“Consolidating press operations is one way to manage the high cost of printing papers while maintaining a strong local news team and serving a growing digital audience,” Miller said. “Our reporting staff remains firmly rooted in Columbus, and our commitment to local journalism is steadfast.”
The Columbus presses will operate for another week to print commercial jobs.
When the plant opened in 1990, the presses printed 267,500 daily newspapers. During the last press run for Monday’s paper, the press order was just a little more than 49,000. Digital subscriptions continue to grow.
The Sunday night press run began at 9:36 p.m. and ended at 11:11 p.m. Ten press operators ran The Dispatch and another publication on two of four presses in the building. It ended an era, and a way of life, with employees sharing stories of printing stories.
“It breaks my heart,” Day, 54, of Ashville, Ohio, said of the shutdown on Sunday night.
“The First Amendment was established in 1791,” he wrote in a note to Miller. “The Dispatch came into being in 1871, and pressmen have printed the paper ever since – a group of like-minded men and women who worked hard to ensure the people received the news about our community and government so they could make informed decisions.
“We never wanted a gold watch or letters of appreciation,” he wrote. “We just wanted to print a quality newspaper and provide for our families and strive to attain the American dream of middle class citizens. This job has gave us that.”
David House, 62, said the press crews were like a second family.
“You’re losing your home,” said House, of Grove City, Ohio. “You spend more time with these guys than you do at home.”
Day remembered coming back from vacation and working 17 straight hours after The Dispatch went to its smaller format in 2013.
A number of retirees came to the plant for the last Dispatch press run in Columbus, including Bob Hopkins, who left The Dispatch in 2012.
He said he remembers working such long hours at the old printing plant Downtown behind the former headquarters at 34 S. 3rd St. that he would catch up on sleep on a bench or on top of newsprint rolls. That’s when they would print not only The Dispatch, but also the Columbus Citizen-Journal.
“Might work Sunday, Sunday night, Monday, Monday night, Tuesday, and work would be done,” said Hopkins, 69 of Hilliard, Ohio, who retired in 2012.
The decision to shutter and sell the plant off of Georgesville Road near Interstate 270 and move printing to Indianapolis came after GateHouse Media, which bought The Dispatch in 2015, bought and merged with Gannett in 2019.
The closure affects 188 full-and part-time employees, some of whom already have found new jobs. Others are being helped by the company to find work.
Press operator Jon Haley, 31, of West Jefferson, Ohio, has found a new job at Mammoth Labels and Packaging in Columbus. To him, he said, working at The Dispatch was more than just a paycheck: It was a tight-knit group of friends who often spent time together at the Galloway Tavern.
And they took pride in their work. “This is a pretty good job,” Haley said.
The Dispatch circulation and advertising departments located at the plant will move to other offices in Columbus.
The $125 million plant was the pride of the late Dispatch Publisher John F. Wolfe, who sold the paper in 2015 and died in 2016.
“Our investment represents a commitment to the community and expresses our confidence in the future growth and prosperity of central Ohio,” Wolfe said in August 1990. “This plant puts us at the forefront of publishing technology.”
After ground was broken on April 21, 1988, it took close to two years to build and open the 401,273 square-foot Crosswind plant, which replaced the Downtown pressroom.
The four Japanese-built TKS presses at the Crosswind plant stand 49.5 feet tall – about five stories – and 120 feet long. After a slow start up, the rollers get up to speed and hum while the car-sized cutter makes a “thunk-a-da, thunk-a-da, thunk-a-da” that vibrates the floor in the pressroom.
As papers rolled off the press Sunday night, operators pulled papers from a conveyor to check pages and ensure colors quality, and to make sure the pages were being cut correctly.
“It’s all right,” said Haley as he looked at some pages. “Not too bad.”
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