I suppose that one of the main ways conventions can be improved is via shared knowledge, so I have decided to present some of the experiences and conclusions I reached from being part of the print room team at Conspiracy. Hopefully most of the crew learnt something which would enable them to do a better job in the future, and I should make it clear that these are my own personal thoughts on the subject and may not adequately represent the views of the members of the team.
In fact, the word team is the key to a successful job. Most of us hadn't worked together before, and by the end of the con we had developed quite a good team spirit. One thing that struck me was that the job of editing the newsletter and the job of organizing the day to day running of the repro room were both full-time occupations. Maureen Porter made a brave stab at trying to do both jobs at once, but I'm sure that even she felt at times that there was just too much to do. The ideal way of organizing things would be to have one person in overall charge of everything which goes on in the room, but with an editor who had sole responsibility to get the newsletter put together and a second in command on the reproduction side to deputise when the head of the room wasn't there. This would mean that there would be two distinct teams working in the repro room, editorial and production.
The editorial team would obviously consist of the newsletter editor, and about four staff who would handle typing and formatting on a PC, writing, and paste-up. It would be essential to have at least one person who is experienced in using a desktop publishing package and would be useful if all the staff were used to writing. Basic design and formats could be worked out well in advance and entered into the machine from the start. The content of the newsletter could be typed into the system as soon as it is received, leaving only organisation and formatting at the time of publication. Most of the formatting could be done on the machine and any illustrations pasted up prior to making the stencils.
The content would consist of text and illustrations. It would obviously be preferable to commission some illustrations beforehand and accept others as they are dropped in by fan artists at the con. The written content would consist of a variety of categories, as it did in PLOT. There would be feature articles, some of which could be commissioned before the event. There would be reports on items actually happening at the con. This would necessitate talking people into writing reports on items they attend. There would be trivia which would obviously depend on people reporting things they see and hear. There would be the lost and found section, an essential service for the attendees. Information for this would come either direct from attendees or from the convention information desk. There would also be the information sections primarily concerned with distributing details of programme changes, parties and events organised by individual fan groups. Programme details would naturally come from the programme organisers. To some extent the other items would rely on the editorial team being informed, though it would also be important for the team to keep an eye out on the noticeboard.
One of the problems we faced was in producing two multi-page newsletters a day, and most of you no doubt noticed that this was reduced to one from the Sunday of Conspiracy. I think it was a brave try on Maureen's part to try and produce two a day, but the time it took to produce caused many complaints about its late appearance and delays in distributing essential information. I think that I would recommend for the future one main newsletter of two or more sheets about 1pm and 2 single sheets, one in the morning and one in the early evening. This would enable fast distribution of essential information.
That deals with the editorial side of the repro room. The production team would ideally consist of about six staff experienced in using duplicators, stencilling machines and anything else which may be used. Of course, they would not all be on duty at the same time. One of the problems at Conspiracy was that Moira Shearman, Ron Gemmell and Simon Nicholson were on duty most of the time on the duplicators, with fill-in help from Maureen and Paul Kincaid when necessary. It would be essential to have a rota to make sure that all the jobs were covered and that people got some time off. It wold also be necessary to draw up a schedule for producing the newsletter. Another of the problems we found at Conspiracy was that it took far longer to print the newsletter than had been anticipated. A certain amount of capacity planning would be required before the con, and this would hopefully be accomplished by consulting fans who have experience of duplicators. If a rough schedule could be produced, it would serve two purposes: it would stop some of the bottlenecks we suffered at Conspiracy and it would enable other fans to make use of the facilities in between times.
It must be fairly well known that some fans were disgruntled at not being able to use the repro room facilities for fanzines and other fannish items, and you have to believe that we were dismayed that we were unable to offer normal fannish courtesies, but when it came down to it, convention business had to come first. Hopefully, scheduling would ease the problem and enable at least some fans to make use of the equipment. Of course, it will never solve all the problems and there are sure to be some fans who are disappointed, but it may help to ease some of the friction between the repro room and the average fan.
The item I have so far not covered is equipment. We had three stencil machines, and this would appear to be adequate. I believe that things could have been eased by a third duplicator, even a hand cranked one which could have been used for short run jobs. We had a large photocopier which was far more sophisticated than we had need for, but it had this habit of overheating. We would have possibly been better served by a smaller machine and possibly a desktop machine for single copies. We could also have done with a collator and stapling machine which would have cut down the time needed to put the newsletter together and the problem of senile staplers dying on us. It would also have been useful to have had two PC's, as was proved on the one day when we did.
Of course, you are all sitting there pointing out that all this looks very nice on paper, but it wouldn't work quite as smoothly in practice. I agree. There are always going to be unforeseen problems. I may have learnt some things at Conspiracy, but there are going to be others I missed or ignored. I hope that this piece will bring some feedback both from my colleagues from the Conspiracy repro room who see this and from anyone else with experiences in this area.