Upgrading a Downsizing Industry

By Rosenberg, Jim | Editor & Publisher, January 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Upgrading a Downsizing Industry


Rosenberg, Jim, Editor & Publisher


It's only reasonable that an industry asking fewer people to work smarter and harder should expect the same of the tools it gives them to accomplish the task.

Upgrades, including add-ons, ordinarily cost far less than new capital equipment, can boost efficiencies and even afford new-revenue opportunities. Typically, when the Gannett Co. considers upgrades, it looks for revenue return on investment, "but not as strongly" as expense reduction, says J. Austin Ryan, the company's U.S. Community Publishing production vice president.

Enhancement of what's already installed may wring out efficiencies or opportunities, but it won't always allow further cuts to already depleted staffs.

Management and staff can do only so much, says Janet Owen, production manager at The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore. "If you're going after the labor," she says, eventually "you come to a breaking point ... and you're going to have to get new technology." New-revenue opportunities, she adds, can be limited by newspaper-specific equipment, and upgrade benefits vary by department.

Mailrooms, for instance, remain labor intensive. As part of a larger post-press systems upgrade, the Register-Guard has new Harland Simon controls on its old inserters. But any effect on staffing, Owen cautions, may only be seen in comparison with the old controls' maintenance needs. As for actual inserting, preprints still need to be fed into machines, although multiple-head arrangements can help. For onserting, she notes, one person can feed many heads if preprints are in good shape.

With so much labor-saving technology deployed in recent decades, Owen recognizes that "there's some diminishing returns after a while." Nevertheless, for those who can justify the expense, she thinks "there's more to be had on the back end -- on the mailroom side." Citing experience with new Ferag equipment at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Owen notes that "if you're running 28,000 [per hour] and you're netting 26,000, you're going to be cutting shifts."

Familiar pressroom enhancements and additions range from new controls and presetting systems to digital inkers, spray dampeners, blanket, web and roller cleaners, and inline stitcher-trimmers or gluers. The Ocala, Fla., Star-Banner saw improvement when it replaced spiral brush dampeners with the same 10-nozzle spray-bars The Gainesville Sun adopted, according to New York Times Regional Media Group Operations Vice President Bob Urillo. So did the group's Spartanburg (S.C.) Herald-Journal's smaller press, which now prints three dailies, when it moved from four- to eight-nozzle bars. All the papers also converted to Goss digital inkers.

Gannett is "looking at three-around technology on presses for expense savings as well as revenue" from added color positions, says Ryan, referring to conversions permitting two-around presses to print three shorter pages around a plate cylinder. And where it offers product enhancement and savings, he adds, "we've looked at color register systems at a number of our sites."

To support new products, ultraviolet ink-curing units cost less and occupy less space than heatset dryers while enabling presses to surpass ordinary coldset printing on paper superior to newsprint. …

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