A LOT has changed since I first shook hands with one of the proprietors of Southern Newspapers during my first year at Richmond Hill – more than 33 years ago.

It was around Christmas time in 1981 when company chairman Mr Perkins made his seasonal tour of the building, while the floors of the print room hummed gently to the sound of presses rolling beneath.

For a while the clanking of metal machinery and the shuffling of galley trays fell silent as his Christmas greetings were reciprocated around the composing room.

Bournemouth Echo:

Outside a fleet of Echo delivery vans lined the surrounding streets of Albert Road and Yelverton Road ready to pick up their bundle of papers before delivering them to newsagents in our circulation area.

The Daily Echo van was a common sight across Bournemouth, Poole and the surrounding areas. The shining livery on each vehicle helped establish the paper’s brand across East Dorset and West Hampshire.

The newspaper’s trusted brand has more recently been transferred to our popular website which recently celebrated one-million unique visitors for the month of January.

Locally-owned Southern Newspapers had prospered for decades, working in collaboration with the Trades Union.

In fact, I wouldn’t have got a job as a printer in May 1981 if I hadn’t been a member of the National Graphical Association (NGA) which had run a ‘closed shop’ policy with the Bournemouth Evening Echo for many years.

The working practices of both journalist and printer (compositors/stone hands) were clearly defined. A sub-editor touching a piece of hot metal type was frowned upon and in some extreme cases would lead to industrial action.

This somewhat ‘uneasy’ truce between newspaper proprietors and the Trades Union was well-and-truly shattered by the well-documented Eddie Shah and Wapping Street conflicts of the late 80s.

On a personal note, I owe a debt of gratitude to the NGA (printers union) and NUJ (National Union of Journalists). Both organisations were instrumental in helping me retrain from a compositor to a journalist in 1989.

During these times Southern Newspapers (owned by the New Forest-based Perkins family) became Newscom and the upheaval from hot metal to photo-composition began.

The transformation of the print room – with its rows of heavy stone slabs and linotype machines – to a modern-day newsroom was a relatively swift process.

Suspended chipboard and carpet tiles replaced the high ceilings and stone floors as computer hardware was installed.

Bournemouth Echo:

Retraining was intense. Sub-editors became more involved in the page make-up, while linotype operators and compositors became keyboard operators and paste-up artists.

The working environment fell silent as the excessive noise from the reporters’ old-fashioned typewriters was replaced by the quieter tap-tap-tapping of the modern-day computer keyboard.

Bournemouth Echo:

Meanwhile scalpels, plastic rules and easels became the new tools of the trade for compositors and stone hands as pages were put together with stories and headlines printed on bromide, cut up and pasted into columns.

Computerised full-page make-up a few years later finally saw the printers’ demise. Control of the newspaper production was now almost entirely in the hands of journalists.

Bournemouth Echo:

During this time the company ownership transferred from Newscom (News Communications & Media plc) to the present day American owners Gannett Co. Inc, a mult-media giant whose publications include USA Today.

A division of the company – Newsquest – was formed in 1996, becoming one of the largest regional newspaper publishers in the United Kingdom with more than 200 titles.

The ‘still here, still local’ slogan adopted when the presses were dismantled at the Daily Echo’s Richmond Hill offices, are still applicable today.

Reporters remain in place at the heart of each paper’s circulation area, only the location of production hubs and the presses has changed.

Since the Bournemouth-based press closed, the Daily Echo has been printed at the Southern Daily Echo headquarters in Redbridge, Southampton, and its present-day location at Weymouth.

For the record the final paper printed at Bournemouth was on Friday, April 4 1997.

Earlier this month, the latest phase of the technical revolution was introduced to Richmond Hill in the form of the Knowledge – an internet browser-based system of production.

This most recent turn of the wheel of progress has led to the end of my own particular journey along the printing and journalism road.

During the hot metal days there was a tradition known as the ‘banging out ceremony’ when a printer retired or moved to pastures new. Every available piece of metal was smashed against page stones and steel work benches. The heavy-metal racket could be heard at the top of Richmond Hill.

I am sure my own departure will be a somewhat quieter affair, but a milestone nonetheless, as the last ‘survivor’ of the hot metal days leaves the building.

I leave with no regrets, only a confidence in my former colleagues’ ability to continue to nurture the brand that is the Daily Echo across all the multi-media outlets at its disposal.