Tech Reflect: It’s Only Rock N’ Roll Newspapers

Tech Reflect is a platform for Digital & Web Services technicians to look-back on a particular project and share their experiences, thoughts, and lessons learned.

Last November, nearly a full run of 41 issues of It’s Only Rock N’ Roll (IORNR), an alternative San Antonio-focused, alternative punk and New Wave rock music magazine published from 1979 to 1982, were donated to The Wittliff Collections here at Texas State University, adding to the new Texas Music collecting scope of The Wittliff. The newspaper was a labor of love for its managing editor and publisher, music journalist Ron Young, who wrote for the San Antonio Light and San Antonio Express-News. For more information on Young and the newspaper, please see this 2017 article on the San Antonio Express News’s and this 2016 article in the San Antonio Express News includes more information on the newspaper.

My primary tasks were:

  1. Handling with extreme care
  2. Photographing each page
  3. Post-processing and output
  4. Move files into the Wittliff Collections’ shared drive for ingest into institutional repository

Handling with extreme care

I had to be delicate working with nearly 40-year-old newspapers. The extreme level of care necessary to handle the pages without damaging them was also tedious at times because there was no way to speed up the process– my throughput was limited by the nature of the materials themselves. I learned how best to setup an issue so the pages would not shift as each was captured and I physically advanced to the next page. Also, while the glass had to be clean, it did not have to be as spotless as I expected.

Photographing Each Issue

The capture station consists of a 30 x 40 in. Digital Transitions copy stand base covered in Duvetyne (blackout cloth). I used an 80MP Phase One IQ180 medium format digital back on a Digital Transitions RCam with a Schneider 72mm f/5.6 lens. The camera on the copy stand was directly connected, or tethered, to a computer running Capture One Pro and we had mounted a 2nd monitor right next to the copy stand so I could check each capture as it downloaded to the computer.

A strip of Duvetyne was placed between the page being photographed and the one behind it to prevent the words printed on the opposite side and next page from coming through. Next, a sheet of plate glass was carefully placed on top, flattening the page onto the Duvetyne. The electronic shutter was tripped with a keyboard shortcut using a wireless keyboard that also set off our Profoto studio lights. With tethered shooting, I was able to move efficiently through almost 750 pages.  

Post-Processing and Output

The newspaper was printed two different ways, with the earliest issues being like small books while later issues folded out into larger spreads. I could photograph both pages of the earliest books at the same time, but I had to photograph the pages of the larger newspapers by themselvesAfter capturing, I manually put the pages in the correct order inside of Capture One Pro by dragging and dropping themSince most issues were only 16 pages this was easily done, but a different workflow would have been better had they been larger. Since most of the issues were 16 pages, it only involved drag and dropping 8 or so images and then doing a batch rename.

Before cropping an issue, I brought the brightness of each image up, which helped by:

  1. Lightening and setting the page itself apart from the blackout cloth background
  2. It abstracted the text allowing me to focus on the page itself
    1. The text on each page was often printed crooked
    2. On many pages, it was so slight I often mistakenly centered and leveled the text in the crop frame instead of the page itself

In retrospect, using Guide lines in Capture One (View > Add Guide) would have been helpful from the very beginning for cropping. I am new to Capture One, so I didn’t know this feature existed until the last few issues I output. This tool makes centering each page within the crop box a lot easier. 


IORNR was my introductory experience to a full digital workflow, and I learned a lot about establishing the workflow, computer shortcuts, and Capture One Pro. The most troublesome issue for me with this project was having to adjust my seeing to catch the skewed text and it made me think about how much goes into digitizing somethingBeyond the initial wow, this thing will exist forever nowI considered how the object is photographed, how the photographs are organized, and how much of the integrity of the original document does or does not come through in the files produced.

Austen Villacis
Digital Imaging Technician
Digital & Web Services, University Libraries, Texas State University