Infographics and Creative Problem Solving

UPI, old technologies and my only Titanic graphic (not 100 years ago, but close! ;)

Me at UPI in 1985 in Wash., D.C.

So, the Titanic sank 100 years ago, and it feels like that long ago since I made my only Titanic graphic! So much has changed in how we do them.

I was working for the wire service United Press International in 1985 when they discovered the wreck of the Titanic. Prior to the 80s, UPI was pretty big with thousands of media subscribers and nearly 100 news bureaus around the world. Back then, UPI was to the Associated Press what Newsweek was to Time and Avis to Hertz: a pain in their bigger competitor’s arse. Things began to go badly in the 80s when newsprint costs skyrocketed and newspapers had to cut back one of their costly news agencies (most took both) and by 1985 UPI had already declared bankruptcy once. Before I left in 1986 I had worked under four Presidents and three  owners.

My job was to create news graphics for these subscribers as fast as was humanly possible. If you think news magazines have it rough with their weekly deadlines or newspapers with their daily deadlines, think again. We had deadlines every minute. At any given moment some news organization was on deadline somewhere in the world, and they were constantly calling my department to find out if a graphic would be ready before they had to put their publication to bed. Being in New York, we shot for East coast deadlines first and when we missed those, we we went West with the sun: Central, then Mountain and if we were really late we hoped to make Pacific (Hawaii anyone?).

Notice the drafting pens and cigarettes!

Breaking news graphics were always fun to tackle, particularly back then. You had to really work for your content. Information and visual references were often scarce and there was no internet to go running to. If phone calls and faxes (we got one of the company’s first, in 1980) weren’t doing the trick for you, you took off for book stores, libraries, government agencies…EVERYTHING, in a cab!

So, after telling you all this, I don’t recall how I got my reference for my Titanic graphic, but I do know that it was done in a matter of hours, early enough to make EASTERN deadlines! This was all done with non-repro blue pencils and rulers for drawing its single-point perspective (here’s my video tutorial on perspective, which is approaching 1,000000 views!), Rapidograph pens, ruling tapes and and an Apple Lisa computer hooked up to a typesetter. The final ‘mechanical’ was then shot under a stat camera, captioned (typed with a manual typewriter onto sticky paper, which was then peeled and stuck onto the print) and transmitted to subscribers using the Unifax II photo system. Great for photos but just awful for graphics. They came out a bit blurry on the other side, so graphics had to have large type and be almost all black and white, with very little pattern tints on them. Still, we did all right.

One comment on “UPI, old technologies and my only Titanic graphic (not 100 years ago, but close! ;)

  1. Allan Papkin
    April 15, 2012

    I was there with you, remember?

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