Up Front: Publishing the Computer Way


Throughout its existence, this magazine has been something of a cheerleader for technology. In defending and celebrating the power of reason, we've done our share of marveling at its many newfangled fruits. Recently we had the opportunity to put our money where our mouths are, so to speak, and boldly venture into the exciting—and often bewildering—world of computerized publishing.

Last year, we took the first step by computerizing the editorial department, setting up the editors with their own PCs (a move initially not welcomed by all parties concerned, but the seductive power of the PC has won us all over). Now, nearly all of our manuscript editing and in-house writing is done on the little purring machines, and we actually find ourselves talking about things like modems and floppies and disk drives.

With this issue, we intrepidly plunge head-on into the new technology. Nearly all of the editorial pages in the magazine before you were "composed" on our trusty PCs, using an amazing and powerful piece of software called Superpage. Created by the Pennsylvania-based company Bestinfo, Superpage enables a PC to instruct a typesetting device to generate a whole page—text, rules, captions, headlines, page numbers—everything but photos and illustrations (though, with the appropriate devices—still out of our financial range—that's even possible).

Sitting at our computers, we can edit an article, design a page on screen, fill it with the edited copy, and zap it by phone to our computer composition company. Within minutes, a bunch of electronic signals are converted into a whole page that can be sent off to our printer as is.

By contrast, in our days B.C. (before computerization), we would edit paper manuscripts (what we call "hard copy"), marking them up with various instructions for our human typesetter. Several days later we'd get strips of "galley type" back, which would then be cut up and pasted down onto boards—along with separate captions, headlines, and rules, all to be aligned by eye and hand. It was a highly labor-intensive, time-consuming, and expensive process.

So we're happy, right? Sitting easy with all kinds of extra time and money on our hands, right? Well…wonderful though the technology may be, it's not without its problems, quirks, and impenetrable mysteries. One lesson we've learned from this adventure (aside from being again reminded of those two great eternal truths—that reality never goes according to expectations and that if something can go wrong it will) is how difficult learning a new technology can be, particularly one that is young and relatively untested.

But if the system eventually performs according to expectation (or at least close to it), our savings would outstrip the cost of the software in less than a year's time—a good investment, we'd say. And thus far, we like what we see—and we hope you do, as well.

Regular readers will notice that this issue has a somewhat different look to it, incorporating some subtle design changes. (Curious observers should compare this issue with our August-September number to see the changes.) Doubtless, a few more slight changes in the magazine's graphic appearance are yet to come, as we continue to adjust to our new way of doing things. Let us know what you think.

Managing the whole computerized production process from start to finish will be our new full-time production manager, Nanette Campbell. With nearly 10 years of experience in various areas of print production, Nan's eager to take on the new technology and wrestle with those formidable keyboards.

In addition to her many other responsibilities, Nan will be taking over from me many of the functions I've performed as managing editor over the past several years, as I delete myself from the magazine's masthead to pursue other interests. May she, and the rest of the gang new and old, have as much fun on the magazine as I've had.