By Dana Peck
Director of Digital Solutions
Technology is a change catalyst and the methods we use to create, consume and distribute the news have been significantly advanced over the past 50 years.
I sat down with two of our staff members that have been with us since 1976; Wanda Pearson, receptionist and circulation assistant and Denise Dorsey, production manager, to learn about the technological advances at the AFRO.
Pearson joined the AFRO with the primary responsibility of outlining the ads with a ruler to confirm the proper measurements on the “dummy sheet.” This was a critical step according to Dorsey to ensure the editorial copy would fit properly in the paper. Editors used the dummy sheets to plan out the articles.
Pearson’s role expanded and she would travel by bus to the D.C. office weekly to pick up probate and other legal notices. The notices were cut and pasted with adhesive along with classifieds on the flat. Legal notices provide the public with information about the workings of the government. These notices inform the readers about proposed budgets and tax rates for cities, counties, school districts and special taxing districts. The AFRO remains a paper of record, a newspaper that publishes public notices and other information of interest to the community.
According to Dorsey, the paper was laid out on flats with typesetters typing the copy in columns around pasted ads, legal notices, and photos that were engraved and outlined to make a vlox (spelling?) screen print; then run through a wax machine. Couriers would deliver the flats to the printer. Today, we receive legal notices and ads via email that Dorsey places in the paper using In Design, a layout and page design software for print and digital media. This process has significantly streamlined production efforts. She produces the paper, creates a pdf (portable document format that permits the reliable exchange of documents regardless of software, hardware or operating system), shares with editorial and advertising via our Google Suite and once finalized, uploads the paper via ftp (a way to upload and download files via website servers) to the printer.
In 2018, our current vice president for technology, Kevin MPECKABLE Peck pushed our operations to the cloud. Bothered by our dependence on our in-office server, he contemplated how we could produce the paper if we couldn’t gain access to the office. This was not an easy feat as staff grew accustomed and tied to the office to produce our paper weekly. It was quite common for editorial and production staff to work together in the office to the wee hours every Wednesday evening. Transferring our data from an internal server to the G Suite opened tremendous opportunities and the timing couldn’t have been better – we were operating in the cloud way before the pandemic and our operations forced each of us to our homes. Today we can access archive files, subscriber data, send renewals, edit and send the paper, presentations, grant applications and reports collaboratively from the comfort of our home offices that span three states.
The breadth and reach of our message as the Black Media Authority, a trusted voice of news and information in our community, is strengthened through technology. In prior years we had to rely on photos to sell papers, now in 2021 we have many ways to tell our story and often use multiple media to do so. Social media, our website, paid digital ads, podcasts, live streams and targeted email campaigns are the primary ways we do so.
Technology affords us many opportunities to improve the way we work as a media company. From providing content to circulation, production and tracking our successes; we are now able to operate more effectively and efficiently, and thanks to our VP of technology, virtually.
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