Writers write, photographers photograph, designers design and editors edit. Then everything is turned over to George Baldassare, SI's affable production director. He's the guy who, among other things, makes sure that each issue is propelled on schedule from our offices in the Time & Life Building in midtown Manhattan to your mailbox or neighborhood newsstand.
Baldassare played lacrosse at Clarkson University in upstate New York, so he knows all about catching a ball and firing it toward a distant goal. When an issue of SI drops into his domain, it appears to be little more than a jumble of electronic mips and bits, all the words and pictures having been turned into a data stream by our new imaging and composition departments. That stream is transmitted to a communications center in the basement of the Time & Life Building. At the touch of a button, it is dispatched over fiber-optic lines to an earth station 35 miles away on long Island, where the data are beamed up to a satellite. Seconds later, the signal is received simultaneously by eight printing plants across the country. Baldassare then oversees the printing and binding of the magazine, as well as the distribution of 3.7 million copies each week to subscribers and newsstands.
An industrial engineer by training, Baldassare, 42, joined Time Inc. in 1973 after a brief stint helping design the nuclear power plant in Shoreham, N.Y. "I couldn't conceptualize working on plans for a reactor that wasn't going to go online for 10 years," he says. "I'd rather plan things that are going to happen in the next few minutes."
Baldassare rotated among SI, TIME, PEOPLE and MONEY before spending six years as Time Inc.'s regional manager at a printing plant in Old Saybrook, Conn. He moved to SI full-time in 1989 to supervise printing and distribution. A year later he was placed in charge of the electronic makeup of each issue. Last April, Baldassare was promoted to production director. Since then, he has also been coordinating the placement of ad pages in each issue.
Baldassare keeps a couple of old metal printing plates on a shelf in his office to remind him of SI's early days. "This is what was known as engraving," he says, holding up an aluminum mold that was used to print our first cover.
Today SI is created on an increasingly sophisticated electronic system that drastically reduces the time required to make the magazine ready for the press, where it is now printed using computer-generated film that is turned into offset plates. Before Baldassare begins launching pages into outer space, they are designed by artists and translated into that data stream by color experts and technicians using a Macintosh layout system and SciTex imaging and composition equipment.
A copy of the Michael Jordan hologram that appeared on the cover of the 1991 Sportsman of the Year issue occupies a place of honor on the wall behind Baldassare's desk, bearing mute testament to the nearness of the cutting edge.
Baldassare ensures mips and bits become SI.