Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bob the Typesetter

Bob Reitz works in the production department at the University of Nebraska Press. He's one of the many people at UNP who taught me so much while putting up with all of my newbie questions.

What was your first job?
My first job was at the Journal-Star newspaper. I was hired as an apprentice. Back then it was known as hot metal, the stories were set a line at a time on a Linotype machine using melted lead. I also made up pages and learned to set type on the Linotype.

After about five years the paper made the move to what they called cold type—setting type on film. We typed the stories on a typewriter-type machine that punched out ticker tape. From there the tape was read by a typesetter which produced film that was developed, dried, and then cut out and waxed to be pasted on page-size grids.
Typesetter, compositor, or imagesetter—do you have a preference? What the heck do they mean (what’s the difference)?
Today I’d have to say were more like graphic designers. Saying typesetter to me implies you set type, compositor is one who composes the text or pages up a book, and imagesetter—I’m not to sure what they mean by that because we do more then set images.
Would you list (and maybe briefly explain) the different typesetting technologies you have used?
This could be difficult—many of the older processes were similar, but with improvements of machines or typesetting equipment. I’ve set type one letter at a time, one line at a time on the linotype machine, and using the ticker tape to produce whole stories.

Today we use computers which can have a variety of typesetting software installed. I’ve used a programs named Magna, PageMaker, TeX, and now I’m using InDesignCS3.

Magna set a page at a time which you sent to a typesetting machine which produced film, which was developed and sent to the printer. PageMaker and InDesign are very similar but I believe that InDesign is the industry's choice today. TeX was probably the fastest program I ever used: it was designed for setting math books, but was found to do a great job just setting text.
Which is your favorite and why?
This is a hard question to answer. My favorite would be a combination of TeX and InDesign, using TeX’s speed and InDesign's great handling of photos and graphs. Since that’s not possible I’ll have to say InDesign would be my favorite. Once one gets the hang of it it works well. I especially like the way it handles graphics.
What do you think about having to learn all of them? What have you learned in the process?
Learning them was at times a challenge especially when I first started—the linotype was big and noisy and a real challenge to an 18-year-old kid. But most of the programs were a step forward, they did different aspects faster or easier.

What have I learned? I’m trying to remember, lets see. I guess I would say that all new programs are usually a step in the right direction. They may do several things better or faster, in the process sometimes things that one used before are no longer a part of the program, which makes you wonder. There are times when I ask myself if the writer of the program even thought of asking someone who would actually use it for any input. Me thinks not.
Of the books you’ve worked on, do you have a favorite?
I can’t say that I have a favorite. Although I really enjoyed working on Dueling Chefs. It was a challenge and fun to put together. I’ve also tried some of the recipes which are very good.
Thanks, Bob!

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