Production: Consolidation is More Than about Cost Reduction

Center-for-News-Design6

Centralization is hardly something new in the industry, but two companies have taken it to the next level. Whether you’re a small cluster of newspapers taking your first steps toward centralizing production or a publishing chain with regional design centers, you can learn a lot from the efforts of GateHouse Media and Gannett Co., Inc.

Gannett began consolidating image processing for both advertising and editorial in 2007.  Two years later, ad design was launched at these two imaging centers in Des Moines, Iowa and Indianapolis, Ind., called Gannett’s Imaging and Design Centers (GIADC). These geographic locations were chosen because the Gannett newspapers in those cities had the resources to accommodate the necessary equipment and staff.

Also, they were both reasonably priced cities with good graphic arts colleges from which to pull talent, said GIADC business development manager Connie McGarrah.

She said the consolidation began as a cost-saving measure, which quickly turned into quality-improvement and revenue-building opportunities.

The successes in ad production led to the creation of a third site in Phoenix, Ariz. in 2012 that became the Enterprise Output Project (EOP). This is a centralized page-output center that includes ripping and ink optimization. The EOP work is split with the Indianapolis location.

The sites have complete redundancy and backup plans. The business plan originally included a fourth location, but McGarrah said that ultimately it was determined to be cost prohibitive. She said the three sites are able to efficiently handle the current workload and provide the required redundancy.

Artists and operators at all locations work within the same system and can work on any job at any time. Jobs are synced in real time to the other center so that if one site goes down, the others can seamlessly pick up the work.

The GIADC has an interesting approach to the ad design process: insisting that each artist proofreads his or her own work.

“Part of our training process is to teach people to interpret instructions and complete ads creatively and accurately,” McGarrah said. “We’ve been very successful in doing this. First time right is our goal.”

Every customer or sales executive who approves an ad is given the opportunity to rate the creativity, timeliness and accuracy of it.

“About 20 percent of all ads are rated, and we are currently averaging 4.4 out of 5 across the board,” McGarrah said.

Things are running well now, but Gannett faced many of the same challenges that others have seen when undertaking such a large-scale change.

“Consolidating is difficult especially if there is job loss involved,” said McGarrah. “When we consolidated the Gannett sites, they had no choice. They were required to move their work to the GIADC. So, in some cases there was little to no buy in. We got through it, and as time went on and we proved ourselves, sites began to slowly buy in.”

On the information technology side, McGarrah said, “We expected to have scalability issues as we loaded more work on, but I think all of our vendors and systems/networking folks did a tremendous job spec’ing out the systems and assuring we had enough horsepower to run efficiently.”

When asked if the centralization was successful, McGarrah reported all Gannett newspapers have seen year-over-year savings, and GIADC continues to reduce costs. Additionally, non-Gannett customers are seeing significant savings from eliminating local hardware, systems and staff.

Her only advice to people considering building something similar is, “Don’t do it.”  By that McGarrah means that smaller papers would be better off sending the work to the GIADC because they already invested all of the money into the infrastructure. Non-Gannett papers can take advantage of that investment and avoid the huge capital expense.

“We have built many successful partnerships in the areas of imaging, print and digital ad design, and page output,” she said. “We live and breathe the business every day, on the sides of both a publishing company and a supplier, and understand what it’s like to outsource—we used to do it and we learned from that experience. Our implementation team has experience in nearly 100 site launches and has the expertise to guide any size site through the process.”

Everything is bigger in Texas

The story from another large newspaper organization, GateHouse, has many similarities but some philosophical differences. GateHouse has centralized ad production centers but is getting the most attention with its Center for News and Design in Austin, Texas.

The two things that immediately stand out are that it is not attached to a newspaper and it is a singular site. However, the motivation and results are similar to what Gannett reported.

David Arkin, senior vice president of content and product development, said after several months of visiting companies that had already headed down this path and vetting technology solutions, they decided the operation was something GateHouse wanted to pursue.

“Strategically, we believed this initiative would allow newsrooms to focus all of their energies on a really strong daily news report and allow a group of incredibly talented copy editors and page designers to focus on developing beautiful pages,” he said. “We also believed this initiative had the opportunity to protect local reporting resources.”

In 2012, GateHouse launched two design centers, one for daily newspapers in Rockford, Ill. and another one for weekly newspapers in Framingham, Mass.

“About a year into that initiative, it became clear that we could be more effective in a single center in a location where there was an incredible amount of talent,” Arkin said.

Austin was chosen because of the strong journalism and design programs at local colleges. “And we wanted a place where staff from our two Centers would be open to moving to,” Arkin said.

GateHouse hired the real estate analytics company CBRE to find the perfect site, which also determined that Atlanta, Ga. and Orlando, Fla. might work.

Having just one site was a controversial decision, but Arkin said they were sure a single site would be more efficient.

“We could share best practices, ensure we were working from a consistent set of procedures and could more easily promote staff. In fact, since opening in Austin in May 2014 we have promoted nearly 20 staff members,” he said.

Once the site was selected, the challenge of consolidation began.

“Removing editing and design from a newsroom obviously is a culture change,” said Arkin. “We recognize this is a difficult transition, so we have built out the Center to ensure that newsrooms are able to see pages as they are being built, work with the Center’s leadership on Sunday planning and have direct access to the Center’s top managers.”

From the local newsroom perspective, Seacoast Media Group (Portsmouth, N.H.) executive editor Howard Altschiller said, “You know it makes sense for efficiency, but it’s emotional because of the elimination of the local copy desk. These are friends and colleagues you’ve worked with for decades, in some cases, and their work has been moved to Austin. You worry about losing all that institutional knowledge.”

Similar to what Gannett’s McGarrah reported, Arkin said the original motivation to create the Center was expense savings, but the ancillary benefits have been equally significant. He said the Center improves the work of the local newspapers by employing staff who understand visual storytelling at a very high level and putting new technology in place that helps better manage and share content.

Some of the shared content includes design templates that have been proven to work well. For example, if a GateHouse newspaper is looking to launch a new food section, Arkin said he can immediately hand the publisher dozens of examples of attractive food pages as a starting point.

He also described modular special sections that don’t need to be touched by a newsroom. The local sales reps just sell the ads, and the rest of the production is handled in Austin. Topics include regionalized home, garden, wedding, and sports content. This division, called More Content Now, started internally in 2007, but they began selling it as a service in 2012.

Another innovative approach taken by the Center is handling all press release content for local newsrooms including briefs, blotters, listings and community calendars. This removes a huge clerical burden from short-staffed newsrooms, Arkin said.

The daily production workflow is pretty straightforward and not much different than a traditional newsroom. The local editors submit a budget for each edition, and designers hold a daily phone call to go over the plan. Phone calls and chat are used throughout the evening as pages require revisions.  Every newsroom has access to a tool in the content management system that allows them to see pages being built in real time. The technology of instant messaging, cloud reporting, and high-speed Internet access makes things easier than it would have been five years ago.

“Because everything is cloud-based, our reporters, photographers and editors can work from anywhere, and that’s definitely an advantage,” said Seacoast’s Altschiller.

Arkin said his operation is designed with quality-control systems in place that exceed what many smaller newspapers could afford on their own. He explained every story that is placed on a page is read by a copy editor in the design center who checks for grammar, style and potential libel. Also, every page the Center produces goes through staff on the proofing desk who read and review the completed page. With the designer also reviewing the stories, it’s not uncommon for a story to be read three or four times.

“We’re positioning our newsrooms to focus on original content creation,” Arkin said. “While we understand the desire to see certain pages, we want to free our newsrooms from their desks.”

For others looking to move in this direction, Arkin advised it should be more than just about the savings. He said there has to be a “cultural shift that is going to position your newsroom to become more digitally fluid.”

And GateHouse’s efforts appear to be working. Altschiller said, “Our local copy desk was stretched so thin that vacations and sick days created mini-crises. We don’t have to worry about that as much now. The quality of our design is also more consistent. With our local copy desk, we had some really strong designers and some with less experience, and you could definitely see the difference depending on who was running the shift.”

Another investment that GateHouse made was to commission an 18-month reader research project in 17 markets. Arkin said they use that research to drive the design of the newspapers, and it also helps shorten any disagreements with the direction the newspaper is going. If the research says that people are interested in things to do on the weekend, one editor can’t simply object and say that no one cares about that information.

As for next steps, Arkin said they originally didn’t have aspirations to commercialize their design services, but now there seems to be a need in the industry that they are prepared to fulfill.

“We are ready to offer the page design services and our national niche and special section service to customers,” he said. “The Associated Press recently selected our Center to provide ten pages each year profiling the biggest sports events.”

The savings are also real. Altschiller said his publisher reports as much as 30 percent savings in their operation. If you add improvements to quality and potential revenue opportunities, these two companies at Gannett and GateHouse may be looking at the trifecta of success for their centralization projects.

Jim Falzone is general manager of the North of Boston Media Group, a collection of CNHI-owned dailies, weeklies, magazines, and digital products in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Company: GateHouse Media, Inc.

Division: GateHouse Media Center for News and Design

Daily newspapers served: 37

Weekly newspapers served: 139

Magazines/special sections: 242

Digital platforms: 419 websites

Newspapers using commercial services: 20

Print pages designed per week: 7,000

Number of employees: 160

Primary software used: NewsCycle, InDesign,

Contact Info: David Arkin, senior vice president of content and product development, darkin@gatehousemedia.com

Website: centerfornewsanddesign.com

Facebook: facebook.com/AustinCND

Twitter: cndaustin

Company: Gannett Co., Inc.

Division: Gannett Imaging and Ad Design Center

Daily newspapers served:  More than 100 dailies

Weekly newspapers served: “Hundreds”

TMC / Shoppers served: “Hundreds”

Magazines served: “Hundreds”

Digital Platforms: All Gannett USCP, plus 10 non-Gannett and 31 broadcast

Commercial Products: 46

Number of ads designed per week: More than 25,000

Number of employees: 400

Primary software used: InDesign, Flash, Adobe Edge, Illustrator, DPS Ad Tracker, Media Manager (image processing), and Prestelligence and Puzzleflow on the EOP side.

Contact Info: Connie McGarrah, GIADC business development manager, cmcgarrah@gannett.com

Website: giadc.gannett.com

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One thought on “Production: Consolidation is More Than about Cost Reduction

  • July 20, 2015 at 3:22 pm
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    Great article, but I’m surprised by the omission of any mention of offshore newspaper production providers. This is where newspaper outsourcing was championed, and remains where most of this work is done for US, Australian and UK newspapers. Maybe this was a paid-for piece, but I can’t see any mention of that. Offshore firms often come up against Gannett as competitors. But of course offshore wins out because while quality is equally good (if not better now), it’s hard to beat us on price, scalability or our technology investment.

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