The presses fall silent

Sunderland Echo press hall
Sunderland Echo press hall
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“Stop the presses,” is the infamous cry from newspaper editors when stories of huge importance break as the paper is being printed.

It has been shouted down the corridors of Echo House many a time over the last few decades as major stories (and the occasional howler) has landed on our desks.

Sunderland Echo press hall

Sunderland Echo press hall

When the cry next goes up in Sunderland, it will be for good.

Tomorrow the huge presses that have produced the Echo on Sunderland for nigh on 140 years will fall silent.

While the stories that appear in the Echo will still be crafted by the staff here in Sunderland, the job of printing those papers falls elsewhere. Not unusual in this day and age – few papers in the country can boast a press on their doorstep.

But the loss of our presses really does feel like the end of an era.

There has always been something quite magical about being able to watch a story progress from start to finish here at the Echo – from the reporter’s first file of a story right through to the massive presses thundering out thousands of copies of the Echo to be packaged up and delivered to the newsagents.

In the editorial offices you can feel the rumbling of these great machines as they power up. When you feel those tremors underfoot you know the paper is on its way.

There is no more impressive sight in the newspaper world than standing within a few feet of the presses in full flow. The noise, the power, the smell of the ink and the clattering of the conveyor belt carrying the papers across the ceiling of the press room before dropping from the skies to despatch ... it really is something to behold.

I brought my two boys into Echo House this week to watch this incredible machinery in action. They were amazed. To young eyes, the printing of the paper is fantastical. It’s like something out of Willy Wonka. One minute they’re watching me in my shirt and tie typing away on the computer in the sedate surroundings of the office, the next they’re transported to another world where men in boiler suits with ink-stained hands and faces man these monstrous printing machines.

These are men who, unlike me, look like they’ve done a solid day’s work.

The roaring presses firing out as many as 70,000 papers an hour took my boys’ breath away. It was a pleasure to watch the wonder in their eyes as the eccentric Heath Robinson-like conveyor belt grabbed copy after copy, before racing them up to the rooftops. My lads craned their necks to follow this procession of flying Echoes over their heads and into the machines that bind them up in bundles before they’re picked up and thrown into the delivery vans.

They were still talking about the mammoth rolls of raw newspaper (“it’s like a giant’s toilet roll”) and the ‘grabbers’ when I arrived home that evening. It’s a memory I trust will stay with them for life.

We will still make the news here in Sunderland, but the wonder of the press hall and the dedication of the workers who have manned those incredible machines will, for historic, human and emotional reasons, be sadly missed.