Sometime in the late 1960s, the composition of a newspaper went from hot lead to hot wax.
Hot lead, because a linotype machine would turn the copy written by reporters into strips of metallic letters which were set onto the printing press. (Reading copy backwards was an art form for a linotypist.)
Hot wax, because the machines spitting out the finished copy out of the optical developer were attached to large cardboard sheets marked like graph paper with a layer of wax.
Patrick R. Sorrento was seamless in his transition to the technologies. And he was seamless in his treatment of each new wave of “baby editors,” coined for newly-minted students who went through the exacting 12-week process of learning the craft of the newspaper business — from writing the story to night editing, to producing the finished product.
For the better part of three decades, Sorrento, a crusty-yet-affable priest, moonlighted as the production supervisor of my old college newspaper. As such, he ran a tight ship.
“Where’s the copy? You done yet?” he would bellow in his gruff Massachusetts accent, chomping his cigar.
Our evenings ran way late, sometimes up to 3 or 4 a.m. I strove for efficiency in everything I did, and couldn’t understand why we couldn’t get one edition of our paper, consistently, by 1 a.m., if not earlier.
In my later life, when we had deadlines as early as 10:30 p.m. for a four-section broadsheet, I thought back to the late nights at the college paper, when we sometimes wouldn’t leave the building until you could hear morning calls from the birds anticipating the sunrise.
It was then that I realized the reason why we put together the newspaper at a somewhat dawdling pace. The success of the newspaper wasn’t in the destination, it was in the journey. And the biggest part of the journey was Pat.
For generations of our newspaper editors — a collection of incredibly smart people such as the CEO of Microsoft, two members of the most recent short list of Supreme Court nominees, the head of CNN, numerous authors, and your humble Founder — Pat Sorrento was the glue, the cement, that held us together throughout the shared experience of trying to put together a newspaper every day.
And it was a challenge, to be sure, especially during a three-day period in the spring of 1988. It was then when we learned of a massive failure in the system that linked the computer terminals in the office to the optical typesetting machine that spit out the photo paper that got waxed onto the newspaper-sized graph paper.
After an emergency meeting, we went over to the local photocopy shop, where our editing desk took over an entire bank of computers to compose and print out the copy to be handed over to Pat to paste onto the page. Mind you, the shop didn’t have the automated credit card-based system they have today, otherwise it would have been a large outlay from the corporate credit card.
I seem to remember our senior night editor (who would later pen a memorandum that defined the George W. Bush administration’s approach to combating terrorism) having to hold everything together with a little bit of trepidation. We managed to get the papers out, inspired by what Pat would say if we didn’t get the copy to him on time.
In our archives, you can see the difference: a slightly changed font size in everything from the headlines to the main text.
And as far as I remember, the closeout was earlier than usual.
Rest easy, Pat.