By: Jim Rosenberg
Newspapers add and upgrade equipment and systems all the time, their most ambitious initiatives generally coinciding with facility construction or expansion. But even when business slumped and buying slowed after 2000, the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times invested in everything from front ends to the back-shop. It didn’t get new offices or plant, but had a new publisher and mission for operations, says Operations Director Ben Hayes.
With many legacy systems and in-house solutions, “technology had passed us by,” says Joe DeLuca, operations chief before his appointment as Tampa publisher. “We needed to rebuild our infrastructure to support a new business model. We basically have gotten there.”
Both Hartford Courant imports, Publisher Marty Petty and DeLuca credit those already on staff for accomplishing comprehensive changes. After Petty arrived in 2000, a five-year plan addressed the paper’s revenue systems first, “in a very orderly, methodical way,” she says, before implementing new editorial systems. She acknowledges that the plan benefited from an earlier wait-and-see attitude toward technology developments.
A deadline-through-delivery operations study led to customer-oriented, streamlined changes everywhere: ad and ad-tracking systems, automated “smart-belt” cart loading, pagination, platesetting, output management, press presetting, and now a focus on new media.
Besides web reduction, the presses now have AC shaftless drives and new inkers, dampeners, and controls. That and other work should keep the Goss Metroliners running another 20 years, Hayes says.
Beyond the redesigned Times (twice an International Color Quality Club member), tampabay.com improved, the free tbt expanded to the Web and five-day distribution, and a direct-mail division opened.
So many projects “were overlapping or concurrent,” DeLuca says, and production could not be interrupted. Progress required “a gradual change in the mindset” of some managers, Hayes says, adding that while there was some strain, a stronger, more skilled management team resulted.
All the execs put personnel ahead of the technology, citing teamwork, talent, and good vendor relations despite what Petty calls “extremely high standards” for suppliers. Every area now requires multimedia skills, and there are more opportunities and value attached to cross-training.
At a paper where weekday circ has steadied and Sundays are up for a second year, “We have no circulation department,” Petty says. Re-imagining the newspaper from scratch, managers created an “audience-development department,” handing over administration to finance, and the field component to operations. “Resources are better aligned” and the more efficient structure can move more swiftly, Petty adds.
Meanwhile, news production became a page-management desk, and the marketing department and circulation’s consumer marketing merged, using brand managers for the Times, tbt, and an events unit. In the fall, Times Publishing will launch a home and design magazine.
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