Witnessing Deadline

Author: Kevin Noonan '14

Like a storyline stolen out of an Aaron Sorkin rip-off pilot, I was plunged into the Notre Dame Magazine summer internship on the morning of Monday, June 3, as the staff stared down the hard, unflinching deadline for their summer edition looming only four days ahead.

In terms of getting to know the staff right away, I can’t say it was the most opportune timing to start an internship. I had no problem with that though; I’m as bad with names as I am with…well, similes, I guess, so it was nice not to have my social skills put to the test right out of the gate.

But as a behind the scenes look at the final days of the months-long process that culminates in one of the four annual issues Notre Dame Magazine, that first week was enlightening.

The staff’s morning starts at 9 a.m., and I arrived to the magazine’s offices on the fifth floor of Grace Hall on Notre Dame’s campus at about 9:03 a.m. on Monday morning, which some people might call “fashionably late” but which, for me, is early.

The office is set up in a series of cubicles and desks in a sort of horseshoe pattern, leaving an open space in the middle which acts as a distribution center for everything involved in the issue; floods of story drafts and page designs sit in stacks, waiting to be checked against new and improved versions. Just to the left of this hive of activity, I sit quietly, trying not to screw anything up.

One of the first things that becomes apparent is the total and complete commitment to perfecting every detail. Every draft of every story is read by an editor, then fact-checked by another editor or, more likely, the intern, then finalized and distributed to the rest of the staff, who each read it for spelling, grammar and content mistakes. They mark corrections in their ink color of choice, and then the story goes back to the original editor, covered in all sorts of red, blue, green, purple, black, like a proofreading rainbow.

The corrections are made, and the stories are placed onto the formatted pages, and checked again and again until they are each deemed finished. As the clock inches closer towards deadline, the finished pages start to outnumber the pages needing to be checked, until finally, on Thursday afternoon, the last page is dropped unceremoniously into the pile and the staff sits back and lets out a deep sigh of contentment; relieved to be finished, certainly, but more importantly fulfilled by putting together yet another top-notch publication.

And yet, even then, when it’s finished, it’s not finished. The pages are ready to go to print, but there’s more to that process than just sending an email and the magazines magically appearing a few weeks later, although that would be pretty cool.

A week after the deadline, I traveled to St. Joe, Michigan, to meet the magazine’s art director at the printing press and see how the magazine transforms from InDesign files to a glossy publication. First of all, don’t take travelling to St. Joe lightly; I took a wrong turn out of the printing operation on my way home and spent half an hour driving in and around the set of every low budget backwoods horror movie of the last thirty years. No offense to the people of that area; it really is beautiful scenery, but man was I lost.

That aside, it turns out the printing process is a lot more intense than I imagined. The press was running when I got there around 6 p.m. on Wednesday (so six days after deadline), and they had already printed a quarter of the magazine that morning.

The art director kicks into gear here, making sure that the printed out magazine matches the original design. She finagles with the colors meticulously and teams up with a pressman to increase and decrease the amounts of cyan, magenta, yellow and black make it into each inch of the magazine, often by seemingly infinitesimal amounts. But no matter how small the changes, the results are often dramatic. A comic strip that looks dull and lifeless in one print gets the tiniest bump in yellow and comes out brilliantly bright and lively. Most of the time, I can’t tell the difference between the originals and prints when the art director calls for the changes, but that’s what makes the art director the art director and me the intern. And, inevitably, when the next print comes back, it turns out that she did in fact see something that I couldn’t, and for reasons I couldn’t put my finger on, her corrections always look better.

I’m out of the printing operation and on my way home to South Bend (and on the verge of my previously mentioned misadventure in rural Michigan) by around 7 p.m., but the art director’s night is nowhere near over. By the time I leave, half the magazine has been approved to run through the press, but there will be another round of color checks on the third quarter of the magazine sometime around 2 in the morning and the final check six or so hours after that. Only after that final check is completed and the press finishes printing out the 150,000 copies ordered is the magazine really finished. But even as the press is churning out the summer issue, the staff is already hard at work on the next issue, with its eyes on what the autumn issue will look like.

The slow burn of excitement in the task at hand that goes with this quarterly magazine has already begun, and the clock is ticking ever closer to the next deadline some three months away.

Kevin Noonan is this magazine’s summer intern.