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"Write something worth reading or do something worth writing" A blog by Amy Willis, a multimedia journalist based in London

Visit to the Guardian printing press

I spent a day at the Guardian offices after winning a writing competition. This is how it went. Photos to come.


I arrived at the offices in Kings Cross and immediately realised not sending a what-is-the-dress-code email was a mistake. My prim and proper suit stood out a mile  from the smart-casual jeans and jacket ethos of the uber-trendy Guardian. Whoops. What a fool.

I met Matt and Jennifer, the Guardian PR managers who had arranged the visit, plus John the other winner and we headed to the canteen for breakfast. I had already eaten but was reluctant to reject a free meal.

10am – the editorial conference

A circular mass of bright-yellow slouchy couches filled the room with various other couches dotted around it and a gigantic television spanned one of the conference room walls. I’ve seen a number of editorial conferences before but this was completely different.

The editors slunk in (the politics editor had brought her son). Some opting to recline on the yellow couches, others leaned casually against the wall and some found space sitting on the floor. It had a very open feel to it.

The conference started with editor Alan Rusbridger –  described to me as “the Harry Potter lookalike” because he has brown hair and circular glasses – saying what he liked and didn’t like about the day’s paper. This was followed by a discussion of new stories and a debate on the loophole culture of business. Even John, the other competition winner who was sitting next to me, chipped in with a comment in the debate. It was all very open.


The conference concluded and we were given a tour of the editorial office followed by lunch. Oddly, I sampled pigeon for the first time which staff assured me wasn’t fresh from Trafalgar Square.

3pm – the printing press

We were then taken to Stratford for a surprise visit to the printing press. After fastening our fluorescent safety vests and meeting Mike, the press supervisor and our press tour guide, we entered a large warehouse stacked high with rolls upon rolls of blank paper to the left and a mass of machinery intertwined with stairwells to the right. This was the printing press warehouse.

It was like being shrunk. The rolls of paper were as high as my shoulders and apparently held enough paper to span several miles if unravelled. Everything in the warehouse was operated by computer and the few workers there had more of a monitoring job rather than anything hands on.

Automatic machines put the rolls into long lines ready to be put into the press for printing. But before printing could start the fully-subbed pages from the editorial office needed to be electronically transferred so they can be transmitted by laser onto metal printing plates which are needed to put the image on paper.

But how is the electronic image transferred to the plate? Well, it comes down to a substance I call “green stuff”. The metal plate, made from aluminium, starts life with a layer of this water-soluble green stuff on it. This green stuff hardens when the lasers zap it making the green stuff’s molecules stick to the aluminium surface. The stuff that is hardened is no longer water soluble so when the plate is washed only the non-lasered green stuff comes off leaving the lettering and dots that make up the image. Genius. But each plate only makes up the lettering and dots for one colour. This means that for the each page a total of four plates (each slightly different) must be made for the ink-colours black, magenta, yellow and cyan. Once all the plates are ready they are loaded as templates into the machines ready for printing. For any new editions the plates have to be remade.

When browsing your daily paper you can tell what edition it is by looking for the little asterisks on the left hand side of the page. Asterisks at the top of the page indicate if there have been any changes for that edition. For example if there are three asterisks on the left side but one on the top it means it is the third edition but that page is the same as for the first edition – i.e. no changes have been made.

During the printing process the paper makes its way up from bottom to top back down to the bottom again, gradually becoming more and more newspaper like. Printing takes place at the bottom of the press upward (the four colours are printed separately) and slicing the paper into pages happens at the top. Folding takes place back down at the bottom again. The finished newspaper is then picked up on the pincher thingies (I always used to think these were for drying the ink on paper- I was wrong) and taken to the other side of the warehouse to be put into bundles ready for dispatch.

Et voila. The process is complete. If you ever get the chance to see a printing press in action, it is well worth it. It is a  complicated process but the fact that his is all done by machines is mesmerising and really makes you appreciate how much technology has advanced in the last decade. Truly spectacular.


Filed under: blog posts, Online Journalism

The perils of saying you are a freelancer

It really frustrated me this morning when I opened the newspaper to see my story idea in all its glory with someone else’s byline. I know it is a well- documented problem among freelancers whose story ideas have been pinched by other journalists but this was nothing to do with this kind of bad luck. It was to do with the people I contacted during my research.

In preparation for an interview in Yorkshire I have been preparing a news list and trying to think up some interesting story ideas that might impress them. Not wanting to be presumptious I have been introducing myself as a freelancer rather than assuming the title of journalist for the newspaper I am interviewing for.


Anyway, one of my ideas was to see if the Archbishop of York had any advice on using communal holy water and the shared chalice after recent hygiene concerns following the swine flu outbreak (a bishop in Chelmsford had already raised these concerns a few days before). So being the eager journalist, I phoned up the Archbishop’s office and spoke to the PR manager – who will remain nameless – to see if the Archbishop would be interested in making some comments. The PR manager told me the Archbishop was not making any comments at this stage but would of course get in touch with me if he changed his mind. So I left my number and my email address for him to let me know.

This was yesterday morning. This morning, I opened up The Times and low and behold there was a fantastic article on page eight about the Archbishop’s advice on sharing the chalice. Thank you very much PR manager for not getting back to me.

The problem is’, why phone back some eager freelancer when someone with as much clout as the Archbishop can go straight to The Times? It does seem a little catch 22 – but how can you research article ideas properly if this kind of thing is going to happen all the time?

If someone has the answer then please let me know. Until then I will be keeping my story ideas close to my chest up until the last moment. But you would have thought the Archbishop’s office would have a little bit of integrity.

Filed under: blog posts, Online Journalism, , ,

Battle of the game consoles

When the Nintendo Wii came out it revolutionalised the gaming world. It showed us computer interaction like we had never seen before. Nintendo sales went through the roof as other consoles simply were not the same. That is until now.

Presenting a new entry into the battle of the game consoles… the Xbox Project Natal – a body, face, voice recognition add-on for the Xbox 360. And it looks INCREDIBLE – no joysticks, game pads or controllers, just your body, your voice and the TV. And not only that but it is not just for computer games. It is also a DVD player and video telephone system. This is not just the future of gaming but the future of human interaction with technology.

Think telling your DVD to pause rather than getting up to press a button and think using your TV to make a quick call to your friends without having to hold a telephone to your ear. Project Natal is so revolutionary, it has even got Steven Spielberg on the edge of his seat in anticipation. And well, let’s face it, if the technology is good enough for Spielberg it must be good enough for us mere mortals.

Project Natal was announced at this year’s Microsoft E3 conference and is being developed at the moment. There is no release date yet but watch this space.

Filed under: blog posts, Technology, , ,

Now is not the time to turn on ourselves

I was disappointed to read how the owner of Express Newspapers Richard Desmond is suing journalist and author Tom Bower.

For journalists libel is a touchy subject. It restricts freedom of speech potentially threatening the threads of democracy, and the vast sums of money awarded to successful claimants cripples a journalist’s budget needed for good journalistic practice.

Richard Desmond, owner of Express Newspapers

Richard Desmond, owner of Express Newspapers

It is such a contentious subject that there was even a select committee set up recently to discuss the threat of defamation and privacy laws on freedom of the press and the ability to do good journalistic work with the threat of being sued. Everyone has the right to clear their name if something unfairly malicious is said against them but why not do as  Salman Rushdie did and clear his name but refuse to accept damages? The media industry needs to stick together. Please can someone tell Richard Desmond this and stop this hypocracy.

Filed under: blog posts, Online Journalism

Virtual reality – becoming too real?

After reading this week about the theft of billions of virtual cash from the space game EVE Online, it seems even virtual reality cannot escape fraud, theft and the recession. How ironic.  Games pitched as the perfect mental escape from reality now being infiltrated by the things people try to escape from.

A player known as Ricdic who was chief of Ebank- now known to be a 27-year-old Australian man- stole £200billion virtual kredits and traded them for real money to pay for medical bills and a deposit on a house. When gamers heard of the theft they all rushed to remove their kredits – sound familiar?

ebankdollardanat425 Ricdic has now been booted out of the game for breaching terms and conditions stipulating that virtual cash cannot be traded for real money.

But CCP, the Icelandic owners of EBank, seem to be emerging as the real winners. They have done well recently as more people choose to stay in instead of spending precious pennies going out. And this extra bit of publicity from virtual cash thefts certainly won’t damage things.

It does however raise a few questions about the future of online gaming if the line between reality and virtual reality continues to blur. And if stealing virtual cash has a real life impact does this mean there is cause to introduce virtual police and virtual laws? A scary thought.

Filed under: blog posts, Technology, , , ,

The real blood diamonds – vox pops

Do you ever think about where your diamonds come from? Vox pops of people in Cardiff and their views

Filed under: blog posts, Videos

Published articles by Amy Willis (click to download PDFs)

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Filed under: Cardiff News, Portfolio

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