By: Kristina Ackermann
It’s been a few years since E&P has recognized the Production All-Stars of the newspaper industry, so we were overdue for some tales of creative Bondo application and emergency missions to Home Depot. Luckily, this year’s batch of nominees did not disappoint.
The universal theme across this year’s nominations was multitasking: not just willingness, but the ability to tackle any problem that pops up. Perhaps this is because newspapers across the country are searching for every way possible to do more with less. Perhaps it’s because production attracts a special breed of people. Whatever the reason, this year’s candidates are truly Jacks (and Jills!) of all trades, and narrowing the field to five all-stars was a tall order.
Mechanical know-how is a must, but it’s the leadership and business savvy of these Production All-Stars that sets them apart from the field. From forging unlikely partnerships to bringing in additional commercial printing jobs, these production and operations professionals do whatever it takes to keep the lights on for their publication.
Production director, Sierra Nevada Media Group
Chris Johnston got his start on a Goss Urbanite at a small Oregon daily in 2001.
“What I enjoyed most about that particular position was the ability to create something new on a daily basis. I found the position to be both challenging and rewarding,” Johnston said. “Ultimately, it was this role that ignited my passion for the production side of the newspaper business.”
Today, Johnston is production director of Sierra Nevada Media Group (part of Swift Communications), which operates seven newspapers in Northern California and Nevada, and their respective Web properties. The group is able to produce approximately 200 press runs each month on its 30-unit Manugraph DGM 440 with two folders and one tower of UV.
SNMG general manager Mark Raymond said Johnston has made a tremendous impact by increasing efficiency, improving machine throughput times, increasing quality, and reducing waste. Johnston has also brought the group additional revenue in the form of commercial print sales.
“He has all but eliminated insertion errors in the mailroom, which had been a recurrent problem,” Raymond said. “Chris is a valued member of our senior leadership team and plays an important role in building a company-wide culture of quality, accountability, and responsiveness to internal and external customers’ needs.”
Johnston said one of the biggest challenges of being a production director is constantly growing and evolving alongside the rest of the industry, specifically “transforming from a good newspaper printer to a diverse commercial printing operation that focuses on growing business through a quality- and customer-service-driven environment.”
His advice for managing that transformation is to know that you’re not in it alone. “Always treat your employees and customers fairly and with respect. Always do the right thing, even when no one is watching,” Johnston said.
Operations director, North of Boston Media Group
The role of operations director has changed dramatically in the past decade, and David Lavigne of North of Boston Media Group has rolled with the punches to not only get the papers out each morning, but to bring in new contracts and partnerships.
“It’s difficult to find an operations director who regularly rolls up his sleeves to repair equipment, but also has a handle on online and mobile advertising,” said general manager Jim Falzone. “He’s comfortable coordinating the installation of an ad production and e-proofing system, or changing the drive chain on the gripper conveyor.”
Lavigne oversees production of four daily newspapers and a host of other publications on a Goss Metro press that has been meticulously maintained for more than 40 years.
“What drew me to production is the mechanical side of things,” Lavigne said. “For years I have looked at what the current process is and what we can do to improve it. What can we do to make it more efficient? In production, you have the ability to make these decisions and monitor the outcome until it is improved.”
His mechanical aptitude may be what got him in the door, but his skills in managing finances and human resources are what got him to the position of director nearly 14 years after being hired as maintenance manager at NOBMG’s flagship Eagle-Tribune.
As an example of Lavigne’s leadership, Falzone cited the group’s TMC (total market coverage) partnership with the nearby Boston Globe. “In a sort of David and Goliath situation, Dave helped convince the Globe that our smaller packaging center was the better place to produce our joint project of more than 150,000 copies per week. At its one-year anniversary the project has been deemed a huge success, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in postage,” Falzone said.
Production manager, Black Hills Pioneer
“Ask Scott, he’ll know what to do” is a common refrain at the Black Hills Pioneer, although publisher Letitia Lister admits that sometimes he’s just called “MacGyver.”
Scott and Letitia Lister have been married for 25 years and have worked together at the small daily in Spearfish, S.D., for 22 of those years, so she knows perhaps too well the challenges and tribulations of being a production manager.
“(Scott) has to be half mechanic, half computer engineer, half drill sergeant, and half mother hen — all of which add up to the two people he has to be so he can be in two places at the same time,” she said.
Despite his hands-on resourcefulness, Scott Lister actually got his start in the circulation department and even held the position of circulation director for three years before he was promoted to production manager.
“I have always enjoyed working with mechanical equipment and getting my hands dirty, so being in production is a perfect fit,” Scott said.
The Pioneer runs an in-line, eight-unit Goss Community press, vintage 1960s. “I enjoy the unique challenge an older press poses; it keeps you on your toes,” he said. “The biggest challenge has been keeping up with the changes in technology on the front end of our operation, while still using older equipment to get the final product out.”
Scott’s skills range from troubleshooting software and welding broken parts, to coercing electricians to make late-night house calls and braving blizzards to pick up stranded employees. He takes the job seriously.
“I encourage our production staff to put out the best product possible every day and to keep finding ways to improve,” he said. “That’s how we keep customers coming back and how we attract new business for the future.”
Production mailroom manager, The Record (Stockton, Calif.)
Clifa Richardson is the only production manager who was nominated as a Production All-Star not by her boss or a peer, but by one of her customers.
“She tracks inserts for all these publications and is the first to call businesses inserting into the newspaper as well as the newspaper to see that advertising and marketing hit the publications they want, when they want, and how they want,” said Jack Mitchell, publisher of the Amador Ledger Dispatch, which outsources all of its printing to The Record.
The Record handles its commercial printing business on a Brock Solutions TKS press, and as a 20-year employee, Richardson is the point person for customers large and small. “I love working with people, so that part of my job is easy to do,” she said.
Richardson was working in the paper’s advertising department, when her talents caught the attention of the mailroom manager.
“I started at the Record in advertising, making plates for the press and making up page boards to be shot to film, when I was handpicked by Howard Carter — who was the mailroom manager before he retired — to move over to the mailroom as a supervisor,” Richardson said.
Mitchell thinks Carter made the right choice. “(She’s) always making sure the mailroom staff is ready to handle what comes in and schedules the right number of people to keep costs down,” Mitchell said. “She’ll be the first to say it is a team effort. Every team needs a strong leader, and at the Stockton Record they have found one in Clifa Richardson.”
Vice president of fulfillment, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
It should come as no surprise that the son of a Linotype operator and proofreader grew up to lead fulfillment at a national newspaper group. Since joining Cox Media Group in 1997, Joe McKinnon has become known for his depth of knowledge across all newspaper operations.
“He is directly responsible for helping the AJC achieve efficiencies necessary to build a sustainable business model,” said Atlanta Journal-Constitution publisher Amy Glennon. “His customer-focused style, strategic approach to labor issues, and his ability to bring people together to not only solve problems but execute effectively makes him stand out above the rest.”
The AJC prints on four TKS BW double-wide presses, and the paper has added shaftless towers to all of them to expand color capability.
McKinnon said the greatest challenge of his career was moving to a new operation and starting over. “The AJC is the fourth newspaper production operation that I have managed. Every operation that I have moved to has had procedures in place that no longer made sense and didn’t contribute to improving efficiency or lowering cost. At each location I met outstanding, hard-working people. They just did not regularly look at their operation and question why they were doing something a certain way, or explore other ways to do the same thing,” he said.
And that exploration for new efficiencies has paid off at the AJC.
“In addition to the many efficiency moves, Joe has added to the top line through new commercial printing business he has secured,” Glennon said. “Joe and his team regularly find creative ways to get things done while having a positive impact on the bottom line.”
“At the end of the day, we all get a newspaper produced and delivered to the customer, but there are a million ways to do that, and some are more efficient than others,” McKinnon said. “It’s tough to go into a new operation and challenge procedures that have been in place for decades, but it is necessary.”