With The Forum now printing in Detroit Lakes, 30-year-old downtown Fargo press dismantled
The three-story press was described as state-of-the-art technology when installed in 1992 in The Forum building in downtown Fargo.
FARGO — It might have been considered a special delivery.
Parts for a huge printing press began arriving on flatbed trucks in 1992 for assembly inside an addition to The Forum building in downtown Fargo.
Recently, that process was playing out in reverse, as the once state-of-the-art press was dismantled.
The MAN Roland Mediaman press, capable of churning out 40,000 copies per hour, enabled a full color newspaper for the first time and played a crucial role in keeping people of the region informed over the past 30 years.
Jack Zaleski, The Forum’s former longtime editorial page editor, called it the end of an era.
“It’s as real as it gets, because you will not see presses like this ever again,” he said.
Jay Reishus, director of facilities and equipment at all Forum properties, said the press was the last of its kind in the country.
A few years back, The Forum bought the other remaining one in Washington for replacement parts, which otherwise would have to be custom-made.
The press has stood quiet since early last year, when twice-a-week printing of The Forum was moved to the company's printing plant in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.
The final printing of the paper in downtown Fargo on Feb. 26, 2021, ended a run dating back to 1878 that started with previous owners.
At 290 tons and more than 30 feet tall, dismantling the press is a painstaking process, made even more so by the tight fit. The base of the press was in the basement of the building.
“Weights are obviously the biggest thing … weight and space to actually get it out,” Reishus said.
Britton Services Inc., out of Belvidere, Illinois, which specializes in this kind of work, brought in a gantry crane for much of the heavy lifting.
With crews working six days a week, Reishus said, the job should take about six weeks. Removal was expected to wrap up in late June.
Britton Services will sell the parts for scrap locally.
Bill Marcil Jr., president and CEO of Forum Communications Company and publisher of The Forum, said watching the press being taken out is a sad moment for the company's history and for his family.
“We mourn the loss, and then stand up, brush ourselves off and look to the future, which is about the content and journalism, not the method with which we read it or watch it,” he said.
Twice the volume, twice the speed
Marcil said some of his earliest childhood memories involve smelling the ink and feeling the rumble of printing presses in the building at 101 Fifth St. N.
The MAN Roland press was The Forum’s fifth press since 1917 and the first brand new one it purchased.
Buying and installing the more than $8 million, German-made press was almost a two-year process, according to previous Forum articles.
Then-publisher William C. Marcil, Bill Marcil's father, announced the purchase in April 1992.
“The Forum is making a real commitment here to the future of newspapers and the future of the Red River Valley and western Minnesota areas we cover,” William Marcil said at the time.
Research, planning and budgeting began more than a decade earlier.
A building expansion on the northwest corner of The Forum to house the new press was completed in the early 1980s.
Once installed and operational, the press far outperformed The Forum’s previous Scott letter press.
“This would print out and put out twice the volume, at twice the speed,” Reishus said.
About 35 employees were needed to run the press and assemble and bundle the papers in the mailroom.
“This place would be humming all day,” Zaleski said.
The new press was dedicated on Sept. 18, 1993, followed by an open house the next day, when nearly 6,000 people toured the building to see the new color press.
Red, yellow and blue balloons were meant to represent primary colors used for the first time in printing the paper.
The press performed as advertised, Zaleski said, until “the world changed” and people began consuming more news content in a digital format rather than from the printed page.
Obsolete in less than a generation
Paper and ink are obvious necessities in the newspaper business, and The Forum used to buy ink “by the train load,” Zaleski said.
Removing the 18-foot-tall ink tanks in the basement of the building was one of the most challenging aspects of the dismantling job.
Reishus said they had to cut the tanks in half in order to get them out.
Flooring will be installed in the space that the three-story press occupied.
The frame around the old press was holding up “the weight of Gibraltar,” Reishus said, so it’s sturdy enough to use as a floor support.
What will become of the vacated spaces is still under consideration, Zaleski said.
The color press went from being in high demand to “going for scrap” in a short time, or less than a generation, he said.
Some of the largest metro areas in the country still print newspapers seven days a week, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune.
Throughout this region, though, most newspapers are publishing a print edition twice a week to go along with their online news content. The Forum’s printed paper comes out on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Forum Communications has adapted well to the changing technology, Zaleski said, and the company is healthy even without the traditional daily newspaper.
“That's a tribute to the management here,” he said. “The commitment to good content is still No. 1.”