By: Mark Fitzgerald
The Ann Arbor (Mich.) News‘ splashy redesign — created by one of the world’s hottest newspaper designers, Montreal-based Lucie Lacava — was supposed to make its debut Monday. Instead, readers are seeing the same old design, although printed on the narrower page that is now the new broadsheet standard.
Readers will have to wait until March 15 to see the new design, Publisher David C. Sharp said. Production problems at the paper’s brand-new $39-million plant not only are delaying the new look but also seriously slowed delivery of Sunday issues through the entire holiday season. Since Oct. 30, the newspaper’s weekend on-time delivery rate has plummeted to 10% from an average of 84% in 2000.
Frustrated by delays that, on one memorable Sunday in December, kept the paper from arriving at some homes until late afternoon, about 200 subscribers have canceled, according to the 55,217-circulation daily.
The most recent production problem has been an epidemic of time-consuming web breaks on the two Goss Graphic Systems Magnum offset presses, which replaced the News‘ single 34-year-old Goss Mark II letterpress.
Publisher Sharp emphasized, however, that the breaks are not the result of problems with Goss equipment. (The Chicago Sun-Times, which also has delayed a redesign launch because of production problems, has taken Goss to arbitration over its six new Goss Colorliners. Among its many claims of defects, the tabloid blames the presses’ web-tensioning-and-dampening systems for production delays.)
“It really is not just a Goss issue,” Sharp said. “It’s training, it’s a matter of working out the bugs in equipment. I am not trying to put the blame on one thing. The kind of things we are finding on the press are normal shakeout things.”
The biggest problem, Sharp said, was last winter’s harsh weather, which delayed construction of the Pittsfield Township plant — and pushed the scheduled start of production from the slow early-summer season to the busy holiday season.
The News has a press run of about 58,000 copies daily and 73,000 Sundays. The new plant is also printing about 20,000 daily and 30,000 Sunday copies of The New York Times, which Sharp said were not affected by the production or delivery delays.