After 153 years, Sunday night marks the last ‘start the presses’ for the Courier-Journal

By Chris Kenning, Louisville Courier Journal USA TODAY NETWORK

It was close to midnight May 14, 1988. The Courier Journal’s editor in charge had already put the paper to bed.

Four floors below the newsroom, ribbons of newsprint were racing through two stories of thundering metal presses. Semi-trailer trucks waited to make deliveries across the state. Then, the phone rang. The caller had a tip about a fiery, head-on church bus collision near Carrollton, Kentucky. The bus was full of kids.

Editor Marie Geary knew what she had to do.

“We made phone calls to police and hospitals and pulled together the nojumper,” a front-page story that didn’t “jump” to an inside page, Geary recalled. “I stopped the presses the minute I knew we had a story to ship to composing, then to engraving, for the new front page.

Downstairs, Phil White was among the blue-clad press journeymen who scrambled to fasten new page plates to the giant rollers as the morning drew closer.

Finally, a bell rang as the presses whirred back to life. Operators cranked the 1940s printing press to its limits, coaxing it like jockeys down the stretch.

“We ran those presses wide-open,” White said. “It took us all night.”

When The Courier Journal hit doorsteps the next morning, it was the only paper to have the story. It marked the start of the paper’s Pulitzer-winning investigation into one of the nation’s deadliest crashes.

For 153 years, generations of skilled Courier Journal press operators have inked the first draft of history onto newsprint in the dead of night, come hell or high water.

That legacy will end Sunday night when the newspaper’s printing presses make their last run before falling permanently silent.

Starting Monday, The Courier Journal will be printed and trucked in from Indianapolis. Its current printing presses, opened in 2004, will be closed and dismantled.


UPDATE: The Lexington Herald-Leader and Bowling Green Daily News are now printed in Knoxville. Herald-Leader GM/editor Peter Baniak said the Herald-Leader made to move a week before the CJ closed its presses.


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