Magazine article Editor & Publisher

In CTP, All Ahead Slow: Howard Publications' Pioneering Direct-to-Plate Plan Awaits a Workable Thermal Plate

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

In CTP, All Ahead Slow: Howard Publications' Pioneering Direct-to-Plate Plan Awaits a Workable Thermal Plate

Article excerpt

Whatever else is blocking newspapers from adopting computer-to-plate (CTP) technology, a lack of suppliers certainly can't be blamed.

More than 20 firms offer some variation on the technology, which exposes plates directly. from computer files of composed pages, skipping the step of outputting to film and exposing plates through it.

For most newspapers, before considering CTP, more immediate needs involve: work flow flexibility, union turf wars, staff training and lack of full pagination. Newspapers that successfully tackle these issues, and adjust accordingly, can move more quickly to whatever savings CTP offers, newspaper executives and vendors say.

Frequently cited as a prerequisite to CTP is the attainment of total electronic pagination. Because a lot of European newspapers have made faster progress in installing pagination systems, the more likely candidates for CTP he across the Atlantic Ocean from North America.

But there is a Catch-22 in the relationship between pagination and CTP. Both vendors and newspaper people attending the recent America West conference consistently made the same observation: Because of the costs involved, on medium to large papers can afford CTP, but few of them are fully paginated. That is because pagination is such a major transition that it is accomplished section by section. leaving the last pieces to traditional paste-up.

Another roadblock is that the rigorous deadlines of major papers require production systems to crank out 150 plate per hour. and often to supply multiple presses.

Part of the Catch-22 is in the process There are as many definitions of pagination as there are publishers.

Charles Fertig, who installed a digital platemaking system at the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press, disagrees that full pagination is required for CTP. It is not a realistic goal, he asserts, because elements typically held for paste-up can be done that way faster than reprocessing them electronically.

"To be one hundred percent paginated is very costly," he said. "You electronically paginate those pages that make sense. For the remaining pages, use your other resources - often parallel resources - to the best advantage. Why bother to paginate some elements, such as comics, just to say you are one hundred percent paginated?

"It's more work than makes sense," he added.

Work flow and process are the key issues, not technology, Fertig said.

"Many big metro papers have union problems, and smaller papers don't have the budget. The way I see it, mid-sized papers... the 50,000-circulation range... are the ones likely to make the most progress installing CTP," Fertig predicted.

Another issue complicating the adoption of CTP by large metros is the ubiquitous, proprietary front-end system. Many of those still in operation have toiled reliably for a decade or more, but won't integrate smoothly into modem PC-based pagination systems.

This convergence of analog and digital elements, between unfriendly systems, along with budgetary and press issues, highlights some of the capital investment and integration needs faced by newspapers. Long-range technology planning is far more important than it was even five years ago.

As previously reported (E&P, April 1996, p 30P), Howard Publications has embarked on a long-term plan to upgrade all its newspapers to CTP. …

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