USA Weekend Turns 20
USA Weekend has been printed rotogravure since its inception in 1985. Twenty years ago, the weekly magazine appeared in more than 360 newspapers. Today it appears in more than 600. It started with a print order of about 14 million copies. Today its print order is about 25 million. With numbers like these, rotogravure has always been an ideal printing process for the magazine. Roto presses offer the stability required for long runs, as well as the speed required for a weekly print and delivery cycle of this scale. Roto is also a great way to get high-quality reproduction on substrates like roto news, soft nip, or supercalendered stocks.
Initially, USA Weekend was printed at three contract print sites: Atglen, Pa., Dickson, Tenn., and San Jose, Calif. Its circulation grew steadily—and 20 years later the magazine is now printed at four locations: Atglen, Pa.; Dickson, Tenn.; Mount Morris, Ill. (owned by Quebecor World); as well as Reno, Nev. (owned by RR Donnelley). Today's presses are faster, and they have better register and more computerized controls than would have been thought possible back in 1985.
But some of the most notable changes in the production of the magazine have occurred on the front end. Twenty years ago, it wasn't unusual to receive an actual paste-up from an advertiser, and USA Weekend processed paste-ups and generated film negatives.
At the print sites, positives of the pages were simultaneously scanned and engraved onto the printing cylinders. In the early '90s, the printers moved to a direct-to-cylinder method, by which a digital file drove the engraving, and film was left behind.
At the same time, desktop publishing became more widespread, and the magazine started building edit pages using Quark, PhotoShop and Illustrator. These tools are now so commonplace, it's hard to remember a time when they were cutting-edge.
Shortly after the magazine moved to the direct digital process, the advantage of sending files to the print sites over high-speed data lines became clear. The magazine saved days in the prep cycle, and super-fast transmission allowed for the kind of emergency response times that wouldn't have been conceivable earlier.
USA Weekend continues to grow with respect to technology, depending more and more on quantitative methods to measure the end result, like densitometry and L*a*b* readings. And the magazine looks forward to the advances of the future—improved substrates, laser engraving, soft proofing and internet data exchange with vendors and customers alike.
As far as why I stayed in the field—that's a good question. I think print production has evolved from being a field that involved a lot of manual labor and wasn't regarded as highly specialized, into a high-tech, systems and operations specialty. It's fast-paced, it's challenging, and there's always something new happening.
Laurie Lamon is director of production at USA Weekend magazine (www.USAWeekend.com), a Gannet Co. Inc. property. She has been on staff at the magazine since its launch in 1985.