Newspapers around the country went through many reinventions this past year, including on the production and operations side. Whether it was installing new press machines, consolidating work sites, or finding new revenue strategies with printing, production directors and managers from many newspapers had their hands full.
We asked a few of them to reflect on 2016, what their successes and challenges were, and what they hope to accomplish in the new year.
Looking back at 2016, what were some of your successes?
Marty Black, Vice-President, Production, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser: In addition to meeting daily deadlines, budgets and quality expectations, we began or completed several major upgrades to our production operation. In prepress, we converted to Kodak “chemistry-free” plates and removed our plate ovens and processors. This saved about $60,000 in annual expense. In press, we received approval for a $1 million project to replace obsolete technology on our manroland Regioman presses. In packaging, we upgraded our SAM package planning to Version 10 and completed a $200,000 replacement of grippers in two SLS2000 inserters.
Robert E. Munford, General Manager, Pacific Publishing Company, Inc. (Seattle, Wash.): We had a significant intake on new education based print clients due to the closure of a regional competitor’s facility and had to get these accounts streamlined into our processes and practices. Accounts were working in a common software platform InDesign but were using a variety of different practices on the individual files that the previous print provider was just altering and fixing without educating the clients on best practices for their files. High school and college newspapers have a large staff turnover and require a consistent stable page handling practice that can be handed off by the advisor to new incoming staff members to maintain consistent print results. This was accomplished with a small team set to train multiple schools staffs at the same time at hosted events at the district level and then follow ups via phone and one-on-one in-plant visits.
Al Waldron, Manager of Commercial Printing Sales/Marketing, The Santa Fe New Mexican: The Santa Fe New Mexican took Best in Show in the 2016 Southern Lithoplate/Inland Press Association Print Quality Competition. This is an annual print contest and we received first place in the Black and White Division and runner-up in the Color Division. Another success was an increase of over 20 percent in commercial revenue and print customers over 2015.
What were some of your challenges and how did you overcome them?
Black: Meeting higher production demands with less people is an ongoing challenge. We continue to ask our managers, supervisors and line personnel to find ways to do things more efficiently and effectively.
Munford: One of the most significant challenges has been a limited pool of experienced and trained staff in offset prepress and press related staffing positions. With all the hype on newspapers and printing industry woes and the digital revolution, we have had to beef up and expand our internal training and development of staff as we hire and from internal candidates that will serve us in the coming years through a mentoring and training process in core areas not served by trade and craft schools. Many school or programs today are focusing on “digital” only process and training and not enough “grounded” foundation work in how things actually run on press. We have to reeducate many on file settings and formats for differences in web placement versus sheet fed and offset settings to get desired outcomes.
Waldron: A local printer closed down and we had to immediately take on a large influx of customers needing a printer. Along with that we had the ongoing issue of finding and training new employees while retaining the current staff. Another challenge is to keep the older equipment maintained and running 24 hours a day. Our customers count on us to be on time. So delays of even an hour can be critical. To overcome the immediate growth we had to ramp up the staff to take on the increase of new business and added a maintenance shift to stay on top of equipment issues.
What kind of strategies do you have targeted for next year?
Black: The number one strategy is to further improve teamwork with all departments. No one department can meet all of its goals by itself. By working with other departments, we hope to find ways that we can save the company time and money.
Munford: We are expanding our focus on color and consistency between crews using not only our presets more and run ups to set and achieve color (coldest web) but also focusing staff differently on crews placing more sets of eyes on color and having desired “printed” sample as well as computer screen proofs to run from in the pressroom. Updates to the new Adobe InDesign CC platform is also underway to better support both internal newspaper teams and are numerous education and commercial clients as they migrate off older machine based packages of Adobe is our only other project.
Waldron: The biggest issue we have is available press time during the middle of the week. We are in an enviable position of being able to be selective about adding print customers. We want to continue to grow our commercial revenue, year over year, and expand the area where we serve customers. To do so, we will have to get creative to maximize the available open press time. Some pressruns that are not as deadline sensitive will be moved to open press time on less busy days.
What do you hope to accomplish in 2017?
Black: The number one priority is to complete the $1 million “Interbus Loop” upgrade on our manroland presses. We have a number of smaller projects we plan to complete that will improve our backup systems and reliability. We also plan to improve our training and development so we are not overly impacted by the expected retirement of several long-term employees.
Munford: A complete conversion to chemistry free plates is already underway in the prepress department with shift leads from press directly involved in achieving desired run ups and waste control within tighter start numbers. Our goal is to further enhance our green position with less waste water and doing away with chemistry purchases for the coming year.
Waldron: One of the goals we have every year is to retain experienced employees. This is the key to making sure we provide quality printing for our own products and to our commercial customers.
When you look at the industry, what are you most excited about for 2017?
Black: The revenue challenges in our industry are well-documented. We are hopeful that we will see progress in several areas; digital advertising, subscriptions and other revenue initiatives.
Munford: At least in our area, we have seen a “reach back” to traditional print with less reliance on the claims that digital and social media is the total solution. Many current clients and incoming new ones have stepped back from sole sourcing their communications or marketing outreaches to digital only and social media solutions as they see more and more of these programs falling short or flat response wise. We have begun to see a return to augmenting programs with print or leading with print and pushing responses to the print piece to digital.
Waldron: Newspapers seemed to have stabilized and some are even gaining in print circulation. This means that regional print centers can continue be a critical partner to local newspapers that cannot support a production facility.
What is on your overall wish list for 2017?
Black: Improved staffing and development, well-maintained equipment and backup systems, steady workload and revenue.
Munford: We currently do not have our eyes on any new equipment installations for 2017. We currently have an ongoing focus on staffing, training and resetting our shifts into new patterns that will allow for more flexible overlaps in staffing coordinating more color work as it enters our shift patterns.
Waldron: A new digital press that would help to continue the growth we have experienced this past year. This is an area that I believe will continue to grow and provide new revenue.