WHEN it comes to industrial revolutions, newspapers have had their share. The South China Morning Post has been at the forefront. It is in the final phase of the most momentous technical advance in printing since Johannes Gutenberg invented typography 550 years ago. Today's Post is written, printed, bundled and despatched to 245,000 readers through computers. This revolution has brought incredible flexibility to the gathering and delivery of local and world affairs and analysis to a community recognised as the most news-hungry in the world. Nowhere else are so many publications available to so few people. The acquisition of the latest technology keeps the Post at the forefront of developments in the printing world. For nearly 80 of the Post's 93 years, its reporters had hurried back to the office from an assignment, scrawled reports or banged them out on typewriters. Their stories, required in triplicate, became known as copy. After sub-editing and preparation by senior editors, copy was sent to the production department for typesetting in metal, the method pioneered by Gutenberg and refined over time. Regardless of the developments to the Linotype-setting equipment that produced it, the type was cast in lead, arranged in columns and clamped into steel frames for making pages. Throughout this process, journalists mastered another skill, the ability to read upside down and back to front, as they looked over the mirror-image to be cast into a single plate and trundled to press. Today, Post reporters file stories by computer from anywhere - the far reaches of China, a football match at Mongkok or the beach at Shek O. A data connection is made to the paper's Atex system, a word-processing operation designed in the United States. This user-friendly system enables the contents of the newspaper to be filed, sub-edited and dispatched by fewer people in a fraction of the time required before. The network of computers in the newsroom provides instant access to world news agencies and real-time business and financial data. Pages are gathered electronically and automatically in microseconds. Complex data, such as quotations from the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong , requires no human intervention or interpretation. The new Atex Pagination system enables pages to be collated and sent to press at the touch of a key. Pagination enables a front page, or many pages, to change with the speed of a breaking news story. These changes are affected at speeds journalists and printers could not have imagined possible 20 years ago. There was an inkling of what might come when the Post ushered in Hong Kong's first revolution in the late 1970s. Metal type gave way to photographically composed columns of type - veterans were overwhelmed by such a change in their work practices. 'Hot metal' was heavy and dirty; pages mounted on steel trolleys were cumbersome and were frequently 'pied' - dropped - scattering lines of a story into a nightmare jigsaw puzzle on the floor. The headlines in those days were also cast in metal, the ends shaved on occasion to make them fit. The then-new cold-set method of typesetting had taken the printing world by storm. It was fast, efficient and clean. The almost unthinkable happened in the Post's newsroom. Whole sections of the Post went 'on-line' and the clatter of typewriters disappeared overnight. The paperless paper was born. Every reporter had use of a keyboard and terminal to file copy electronically. The composing room underwent a similar upheaval. It was transformed into offices with rows of artist tables and light-boards. Columns of type output by computers to typesetters and pictures were cut on to cardboard pages, pre-printed with near-invisible guidelines. When the page fitted the design, it was photographed into negative form. The image was burnt on to lithographic plates that were stretched on to a modern web offset printing press. If such changes were overwhelming in the early 1980s, the next revolution was to be fantastic. In January last year, the Post started producing pages entirely on the Atex Pagination system. There was much excitement as pages ready for plate-making started spitting out of new typesetters in the old building in Quarry Bay. But there was also a feeling of nostalgia, brought on by the realisation that techniques learned only a few years ago passed into printing history. A new era of information technology had descended on Tong Chong Street. Each page of the paper is called up on to a large computer screen; each story is set on the page according to design. The story's shape, length and headline size are dictated by a layout artist manipulating the buttons of a mouse. Pictures, maps and graphics are placed electronically in position. The elements are ordered, sub-edited on screen and returned finished to the page with headlines, captions and body text arranged by design. Once a proof is approved by the senior editors, the page is fired across an optical fibre link to the Morning Post Centre at Tai Po. Pages pump out of each receiver at the rate of one every four minutes - about the same time it used to take to wheel a hot metal page from the composing room to plate-making. Several editions of the Post are published each day. The Pagination system simplifies updates. While changing pages to meet deadlines used to be time-consuming, the new system guarantees that late-breaking stories reach the newsstands. When Chinese alchemist Pi Sheng invented moveable type in the 11th century, he did so to the wonderment of scholars and historians who had been producing documents since the second century by carving the text on wooden blocks, daubing them with ink and pressing them to parchment. It took months to prepare the type and a day to print a few copies. Hong Kong soon reverts to Chinese sovereignty. As the oldest and biggest English-language publication, the Post brings to the Special Administrative Region the electronic means to continue to meet the community's need for upwards of 115,000 copies of its 100-page package.