Hermann Strelow has worked for newspapers in California, North Carolina and Knoxville. He says the industry has been good to him, even as it has diminished over time.
“The newspaper industry is like the Titanic. It’s big, but it can sink.”
Newspapers may sink, but printing will endure, he predicts. “There will always be a place for the mom and pop shops that emphasize quality.”
Strelow is the pressroom manager for Gannett in Knoxville, publisher of the News Sentinel and job-shop printer for regional newspapers, advertising circulars and even the monthly print version of KnoxTNToday.
The legend of Hermann the German is that he came from Germany to install the News Sentinel’s new press in 2002 and stayed to operate it. Makes sense, but it’s not true.
Yes, the KNS installed a $21.5 million Man Roland Regioman press with 12 printing towers in 2002. That’s when the Sentinel upgraded its packaging and pre-press equipment and built a new headquarters on Western Avenue. In all, the upgrades cost about $50 million. The new press replaced a 1964 Hoe Colormatic that had been converted to flexography in the late 1980s. The old press in the old building on Church Avenue rattled and rocked. Getting color to register was a challenge. Most photos were black and white.
Yes, Herman Strelow came to Knoxville in 2002, but in November, after the move to the new building and after the new press was installed and running. At full capacity it could print 70,000 copies per hour with 80 pages of full color. All in register.
In an interview Wednesday, Strelow said he wished he had installed the press here. “I love building a press. I built a couple in 1986.” He claims 50 years in the printing industry, starting at age 16.
Training in Germany then and now is based on an apprenticeship. Post high-school, aspiring printers serve a three-year apprenticeship, working four days a week for modest wages and attending school one day. Strelow advanced through the program and then went for a master’s degree in printing and business. He was “trained to be the trainer” – a certification good anywhere in Europe.
He immigrated to the United States, working four years near Los Angeles and another year in Arizona. He moved to North Carolina and worked 10 years for the Charlotte Observer before coming to Knoxville in 2002.
Strelow has an 88-year-old mother, a son and two granddaughters (ages 7 and 10) back in Germany. He plans to visit if/when the Covid travel ban is lifted. Otherwise, he’s not sure what’s next. He will miss the excitement of the pressroom – the smell of ink and paper, the noise.
His last day is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
He quotes a German expression that loosely translates to “We think, but the Lord leads.”
He may take his sailboat to the ocean and fish for food. Or he may return to “the art of printing” in a smaller shop. He may stay home on Bearden hill and learn to play Minecraft. Guess we’ll wait and see.
Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today.