The building which houses the offices and presses of the Western Morning News in Plymouth is called locally "the ship", and it isn't hard to see why. Designed by Nicholas Grimshaw, the award-winning building looks like a land-locked liner heading inland, albeit with glass walls. Inside it is airily open plan with ship motifs throughout, including portholes, a boardroom in what looks like a ship's turret and a planked bridge to the reception.
It has been open about four years and school parties are welcome to tour around the presses and offices and come to the related workshops. This is all part of Newspapers in Education, a scheme set up by the Northcliffe Newspapers Group to encourage the involvement of children in their local newspaper. About 650 newspapers - around half the number in the UK - participate in the scheme. What they offer varies considerably. Sometimes newspaper staff visit schools to encourage the use of newspapers as a tool for learning.
Landulph County Primary, near Saltash in Cornwall, visited "the ship" last term. The visit, teacher Jo Carpenter said, was designed to tie in with key stage 1 and 2 work. The 86-pupil school had done a lot of newspaper-type work on school events and for historical projects, for example on the Vikings. They also had done projects on advertising.
The tour began in the newspaper training room, where the children were put into groups of eight, each with a tour guide. The first stop was at the presses, while they were running. Wearing ear plugs, they looked down from the viewing gallery at the huge web-offset presses, which are capable of printing 60,000 copies an hour, and the conveyor belts which carry the papers into a room to be sorted into bundles.
Moving to the advertising department, the guides explained the differences between classified and display ads and how they are sold. A tape-recording of someone telephoning to place a classified ad to sell a paddling pool brought the process to life. The importance of accuracy and the penalties of inaccuracy were emphasised.
Before the groups moved into the editorial section they were shown how the parts of a page - the masthead, advertisements, news stories and pictures - are fitted together. The roles of reporters and sub-editors were explained, and the speed of news gathering was emphasised. "When Nelson died at the battle of Trafalgar it took two weeks for the news to reach this country. Now pictures can be sent from abroad via satellite in a few minutes," said one of the guides.
She explained the process of plate-making and illustrated how pictures are produced using only four colours: magenta, cyan, yellow and black. In the reel store the groups watched the gigantic rolls of newsprint, each about 12 miles long, being moved by forklift trucks and put on to the presses.
It was now back to the training room for lunch. In the afternoon workshop, the children took on different tasks, working to a deadline. Some wrote the articles while others composed headlines, drew pictures or prepared a bill board to advertise their edition. Hilary Braine, the workshop leader, then fitted the items together on a newspaper grid, made a negative and printing plate, and rolled off a sheet of newspaper for them to keep. Jo Carpenter was pleased; newspapers and all the work the school does in the newspaper format would make more sense to the children now, she said. "This is reality. They've worked to a deadline and they've got something to show for it."
For information on Newspapers in Education contact Northcliffe Newspapers in Education, 31 John Street, London WClN 2QB. Tel: 0171 400 1100. E-mail: ww.nie.northcliffe.co.uk.
Many newspapers offer tours or work with schools in other ways, so contact you local paper.