Nelson Poynter: Wisdom from 1946, on Technology, Readability, and Research

Following are comments by the late Nelson Poynter, founder of the school that has become The Poynter Institute and longtime owner and editor of the St. Petersburg Times, from a speech titled “We Are Remiss in Research,” presented on Nov. 2, 1946 to the Associated Dailies of Florida. We offer them up in the context of discussions surrounding

“The Poynter Fonts: The Readability Series,”

the exciting new series of newspaper typefaces now in testing. (Research by Poynter Institute archivist David Shedden.)

”As custodians of one of democracy’s essential freedoms we (newspapers) are guilty of technological backwardness. We have been remiss in discovering new tools to implement that freedom. As an industry, we have done practically nothing to further basic research. We have depended on the purveyors to our industry – the paper manufacturers, the makers of ink and of presses and other printing equipment – to do our research work for us.”



“No rounded effort has been made to try to find better and cheaper means of producing desired images on a piece of paper. However, here and there the inventive genius of this country is at work for us – or possibly for some unforseen competitors. They are at work, and there are already indications that revolutionary methods in the so-called “graphic arts” are coming.”

“Both big and small publishers – and their employees - should have a great interest in whatever new methods may be developed to give the American people better newspapers and a greater variety of newspapers than in the past.”

“I have here some samples of printing that was never touched by printers. The copy was not composed by anything approximating a linotype or intertype machine. It was etched on a lighter metal in less time than could be done on zinc. … We think this sample has significance to all newspaper publishers, and their employees. Perhaps if we don’t wake up, a bunch of youngsters will come along with a shirt-tail full of magnesium and start new newspapers.”

“We have learned enough to know that we have learned little. We have learned that as an industry, we are backward in research, and that we are not seizing the new technologies and discoveries of recent years. As an industry we must improve and expand – or we will dwindle and die.”

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