The September 19 issue of the Nassau Weekly—our first time on actual paper since the beginning of the pandemic—had some printing problems that made it difficult to read. As I was walking through the Forbes dining hall that afternoon following distribution, Joe Coraggio, who works there, called me over. During his break between meals, he had been flipping through the Nass, and he had a list of suggestions for how it could be improved. I soon found out that he had decades of experience in the printing industry. A week later, I sat down with him to learn more about his background, his work at Forbes, and his interests. The transcript has been condensed and lightly edited for concision and clarity.
Sam Bisno: Tell me about your background before you were at Princeton. Where do you come from? What brought you here?
Joe Coraggio: I grew up in Brooklyn. I was interested in music and the arts, so during high school I played violin and was actually first chair in the orchestra. I went to Brooklyn College, where I got more interested in arts and graphics. I took the proper course curriculum for graphics and communications with a concentration in photography. When I graduated, I realized it’s not so easy to find a job as a photographer, especially an art photographer. So I found a job in a studio that photographed models and clothing for catalog work. I wasn’t a photographer, but I got into production, and then I realized, “Gee, that might be the way I really want to go.” That way I could do the art photography for myself while still getting a paycheck.
I gathered a lot of responsibilities, and within a year they asked if I wanted to be an assistant photographer. But I really wanted to go in a different direction at that point, and that’s when I heard of a company called RR Donnelley and Sons. They’re the largest commercial printer—almost anything you touch, whether it’s magazine, catalog, tabloids, newspaper, books. I interviewed for a job, and I got it because they were starting a module in New York that they were bringing over from Chicago. I was upfront with the interviewer. I said, “I don’t know anything about print.” And he says, “Good, because we’ll teach you our way.”
It was a really wonderful company to work for in my second year out of school. I ended up working in customer service. We would close Time Magazine on the weekends, People Magazine on Tuesdays, Sports Illustrated on Monday. We really got our hands on all the different publications. I found out that they had a graphics management course for a master’s at New York University, so I attended NYU in the evenings to get a master’s degree in print and in graphic communications. I worked there in New York for six years; then they were closing the operation and moving it to different divisions, so I went to Old Saybrook, Connecticut. In New York, we were doing preparation work, but when I transferred, that’s when we had what they called heatset web presses. All the different units that print the material at high speeds—they’re like a block long. We printed catalogs, Time Magazine, The Economist from England.
I was there for about two years when I got a call from McGraw Hill to ask if I was interested in becoming a print quality analyst. I didn’t take it right away, but when opportunity knocked a second time, I went back to New York, where I became in charge of quality assurance for the color of their different publications, including Businessweek. I spent most of my later years working on various publications that Standard & Poor’s would publish. I gained a lot of knowledge of all the different types of print work, and I finally attained that master’s degree from NYU. I worked there for about 27 years until McGraw Hill started selling things off and consolidating their operations. I took an early retirement, and because I still wanted to work, I came over to Princeton. But not in print, in dining services.
SB: Right, I was going to ask about that. That’s obviously a shift, so what happened?
JC: What happened was I needed something to do. A friend of mine said that he knew people here that worked what they call Tiger Refreshments. At first, I just worked some of the sporting events like football games, basketball, and hockey. One day somebody approached me and said, “There’s a job available at Forbes to work in the dining halls for residential dining,” and I said, “Oh, that would be really interesting,” and that’s how I came to work at Forbes. It’s a great job because I get to meet students such as yourself and work with them, tell them about my background, and also listen to their stories. If I can help them out, I do.
I also play an instrument. My band actually played here at Forbes two years ago right outside in the hall. That was a lot of fun. I’m always interested in the music aspects of Princeton. I’ll definitely attend their symphonic orchestra when they play over at the Richardson Auditorium.
SB: Still playing the violin?
JC: I played violin in high school, but I’ve always played guitar. In the band, I play bass guitar and harmonica. I don’t sing that well, but I do sing some background. It’s a tribute band for Bad Company, a band from the ’70s. The lead singer was Paul Rodgers. We do all of his music. One of the other bands he was in was called Free, and we do a song called “All Right Now.” I know you’ve heard that song.
SB: Of course.
JC: I have a second band called Skinny Dippers. We keep our clothes on, though.
SB: I was wondering.
JC: [Laughs.] That band has two women singers, and we do covers of Pat Benatar, Blondie, and even modern stuff like Pink and Paramore.
SB: Wow, that’s a wide range.
JC: Yeah, a lot of fun music. But I do miss working in the print industry, so any time I can help someone with print, I love to pass my knowledge on.
SB: Yeah, so we started talking when you saw the copy of the Nass that had some printing issues. What jumped out to you when you first looked at it?
JC: The title of the issue, “Print is Real,” grabbed my attention right away, so I wanted to read it. I’m looking through the table of contents, and all of a sudden I realized I was going a little blurry-eyed: it’s the color behind the black text that’s out of register. You really can’t register such a fine text; it should be black only. I started realizing I would love to speak with either the printer or the production people to point this out and correct this quality assurance issue and make a better publication.
SB: I see you’ve brought some stuff with you.
JC: [Removing a printer’s loupe from his bag] This is called a loupe. It’s a device that printers and sometimes linen testers use. You can put this on a piece of material [presses the loupe to my shirt, which is cotton pretending to be linen] and see the weave. But take a look through there at the newspaper: there’s the text in black, but then there are overriding dots of cyan and magenta. Maybe even yellow. You don’t want four-color text. What happened is the printer read the text as an image and said, “Oh, you want us to make the text four-color.”
In years past you were probably safer because the text would only ever be in the black. But now the computer programs try to guess what you’re doing, and since you also have images on the page, it guessed incorrectly. To create a quality four-color piece, the line screen of each color is at a different angle, and when you put them together, you get what they call a rosette pattern. You see that?
SB: [Looking through loupe] Oh, yeah!
JC: I’m going to give you this book. It’s called a “pocket pal.” Anybody that’s in production or graphic arts should have this book; this is like the Bible when you start a publication. [Joe flips through the handbook, showing me different diagrams.] When you’re looking at those line screens—oops, I broke the spine [laughs]—the black is at a 45-degree angle, the magenta is at a 75-degree angle, the yellow 90, and the cyan 105. You take an image, you blow it up, and you can start to see the dots.
SB: Wow, I never knew that. From the surface it just looks like color.
JC: Right. When you have a photograph that you would take with a camera and you get a print, you get a continuous tone print. You can’t print a continuous tone print on paper, so you have to turn it into those four-color screens. [Picks up another book.] I know I can’t condense all of my knowledge into an hour interview, but this is SWOP—Specifications for Web Offset Publications. Your publication is, I’m assuming, printed on a web press. The thing is that the paper is very absorbent, so the ink is drawn into the paper, unlike a magazine. Magazine pages are coated and are a lot brighter. When you have coated stock, the printing stays tighter. You can register more easily.
[Looking at a portion of the Nass in which the text has been “dropped out,” meaning it is visible in the negative space between surrounding blocks of ink] You create colors by using different percentages. If you’re going to drop out text, you want to make sure that you have a certain amount of a color surrounding the text—yours looks like it’s a 90-percent tint, but it could be 100 or even 50—but what’s important is that it’s only printed as one color. That way it’ll be clear.
[Joe and I continue to discuss printing for several minutes. His expertise is mind-blowing.]
SB: You mentioned that part of what you like about your job is that you get to help students out. Obviously you passing along all of this printing knowledge to me is an example of that. I’m wondering if there are other memories that stand out.
JC: There was a young lady who was on the staff of a different publication. She was in charge of creating cartoons. She came and asked me if I knew anything about the reunions. I told her, “Gee, I really only worked one, but from what I found out—and Princeton won’t back this up—there’s probably more beer drunk at a Princeton reunion than there is at the Super Bowl or NASCAR.” I said, “Why don’t you have a beer distributor driving to Princeton asking directions?” She came up with the idea that a tiger would be driving the truck, and there’s two little tiger cubs on the corner pointing and saying, “This way to Princeton.”
SB: [Laughing] That’s good.
JC: And also just talking to students about their day. I can tell if a student is feeling down. I might ask them what’s going on. They might tell me how they missed a class or how they’re getting more involved with different clubs and their schoolwork is getting harder. I’ll say, “Gee, sometimes you have to put less on your plate.” Tell them it’s okay to say no—say no without any excuses. You have to concentrate on your own well-being.
SB: That’s obviously really valuable for students. At least in my experience, coming here felt very out of my element all of a sudden. I’ve lived with my parents my entire life.
JC: And now you have to take care of your laundry, make sure you’re fed. It’s a lot. I think Forbes and the other residential halls do a good job of weaning the students and making them more self-reliant. My job title is a food worker and card checker. However, one of the institutions on campus—they have these nominations for Hidden Chaplain—and I’ve been nominated by students three times now. Students have recognized that I’m willing to help them.
SB: That’s awesome—and well-deserved!
JC: It’s a great feeling.
SB: Tell me about the other parts of your job. Do you work full-time?
JC: No, it’s a part-time position, so I work Sunday brunch and dinner and then Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday dinner hours. However, I do help out some other times. Yesterday, I worked the football game. That’s retail dining. I was put in charge of the president’s box, making sure that they had an enjoyable time at the game, that they had refreshments [laughs].
SB: At Forbes, I’ve mostly seen you working up front. Do you ever work in the kitchen?
JC: Not much food handling, but I sometimes take care of the cereal selections and the peanut butter station.
SB: And do you get along with your coworkers?
JC: Oh yeah, the guys here are great. And yeah, sometimes I’ll pick up a knife and help them out in the kitchen. It’s a job where, when you’re not doing the card checking, you can pitch in and help wherever it’s needed.
SB: You told me before we sat down that you were out on the Forbes golf course picking up spare balls. Do you golf? What do you do when you’re not working?
JC: Golfing, yeah. [Laughing] I’m a high handicapper. I was part of a charity organization to raise money for the visually impaired. One of my prior bosses was blind in his lead eye, and at some point he was with some salespeople from our company, and they were talking about golf handicaps. He goes, “Well, match my handicap! I’m blind.” So they came up with a way to emulate and create empathy for visually impaired people. Everybody wore a patch on at least one hole through the golf game. It worked out so well that they did it annually. We got some sponsors, and we would take the funds created from the event and donate them to Fidelco Guide Dogs to raise and train guide dogs, and to braille companies to typeset in braille. And we’d also donate to research for a condition that people get later in life where their retinas become detached.
SB: That’s incredible. So music, golf, any other passions?
JC: I have three children. My oldest son has a double master’s from the University of Göttingen in Germany. However, he’s recently wanted to change careers, so he was accepted into an accelerated nursing program at Johns Hopkins. And my two younger children are both attending Montclair State University here in New Jersey.
SB: Sounds from the way you’re talking about them that you have a tight family?
JC: Yeah. Actually, I just picked up the two from Montclair and we went to the Renaissance fair.
SB: Really? That’s great. I’ve always wanted to go to one.
JC: Oh, it’s a lot of fun.
SB: Part of why I wanted to conduct this interview is to help students connect with staff. I think a lot of students go through their day and don’t give the workers here too much thought. I’m wondering: if you could send a message to students who are going to read this, what would you want to pass on?
JC: Be passionate. Follow your heart, and even if you don’t have a career in mind right now, careers can change. People today may not be in just one job for 27 years. I started out wanting to be a photographer, and from photography I went into printing, from printing to publishing. Your life will take you in different directions, so be willing to follow those directions, but also follow your own passion. If you do that, I think you’ll be successful.
SB: I don’t know what I want to do when I graduate, so that’s great advice to keep in mind. And can I ask how old you are now?
JC: Sure! [Laughing] I am a senior citizen. In January, I turn 66.
SB: One more question—and feel free not to answer—but is there anything you don’t like about working here? Anything you would change if you could?
JC: Actually, I wrote an essay because they have a competition every year that’s open to staff. In it, I wrote how pleased I am working here. All those years working at McGraw Hill, I saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in my purchasing practices and the quality control issues. But no one ever said thank you. Over here, I get thank yous from students, and that makes me feel really good about myself and the job.
My first year here, I was talking to a student as she was going into dinner. She mentioned that she was late because she was watching a documentary on the SR-71, which is a Lockheed spy plane. It was called the Blackbird. I said, “No way. My father worked for Lockheed. You’re interested in it?” Turned out that her grandfather was on the team that put together the Saturn V rocket that took the Apollo astronauts to the moon. So we had this thing where every time she’d come in we’d talk about space, Lockheed jets, and things. It just makes my day. She really enjoyed talking about those things as well. I realized that the students want to talk. Not every student, but there are some students that do want to have conversation, and I’m willing to have those conversations with them.
SB: Thank you so much. Anything else you want to add?
JC: That pretty much covers it. But any time you have a question, you go ahead.
Since our interview, I’ve come down to lunch multiple times to find Joe waiting with friendly feedback on the latest issue of the Nass. One afternoon, he stopped me and told me he wanted to add something to his message for readers. “Feel free to speak to any of the workers,” he said. “They love to have a conversation. Anytime you need a welcoming face, please talk to someone, whether it’s a facility person, food worker, or anyone.”