Post-Press: Bernie Szachara

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

Michael G. Kane, publisher of the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y., first describes Bernie Szachara as a “kind of renaissance production director.” It’s an apt description, because as the D&C’s vice president of operations, Szachara has responsibilities in areas ranging from the traditional press, post-press, and mailrooms to circulation and information technology.

But perhaps because the renaissance reference is a little too redolent of the past, Kane amends that. “I think Bernie represents the future of operations,” he says. “I harken back to when I got into the business in the early 1980s, when people fairly or unfairly had a certain stereotype.” Back then, production executives were expected to stick to machines, and that was fine with them.

Szachara, though, has a wide interest and knowledge of all corners of the newspaper business. In 2006, he was a key player in putting together the D&C’s strategic plan. He was in charge of the two-year-long, $6.5 million renovation of the paper’s downtown offices, building a training center that holds 200 people, creating new work spaces for the advertising and online departments, and carving out a place for the new custom- publishing business. “He helps me prioritize and plan for all our capital investments and operations,” Kane says. “That’s something you wouldn’t say about a production director 15 years ago.”

The Democrat and Chronicle was once the hometown paper of Gannett Co.’s headquarters, and has long been the place where the nation’s largest newspaper chain tries out the very latest in equipment and systems. “With Kodak and R.I.T. in our backyard, we should be the leaders in innovation,” Kane adds.

It’s appropriate, then, that Szachara comes out of the Rochester Institute of Technology. He did his undergraduate internship at the D&C, which foreshadowed a professional career spent entirely with Gannett. His first professional job was as production coordinator for USA Today at its Marin, Calif., site.

In Rochester, Szachara has accelerated the paper’s pursuit of new tools. The D&C, for instance, was the first U.S. paper to adopt violet computer-to-plate technology. “We saw it at Nexpo that year, and became a very early adopter,” he says. Rochester is also one of the very few papers in the world to use SandyScreen image-screening technology (which uses a geometric and edged form rather than the traditional screening dot), developed by the Swiss company. “The images resolve much easier to the eye,” Szachara says. “You don’t see that noticeable dot or rosette pattern.”

This particular fashion-ward technology gives the D&C a cutting edge in their relatively new commercial printing ventures, too. SandyScreen screening produces, effectively, a 133-line screen ? allowing the newspaper’s MAN-Roland Geoman cold-set to achieve heatset quality. “That gives us the ability to more tightly and closely compete with commercial printers,” Szachara says.

D&C quality is being recognized not just by printing customers, but globally. The paper was inducted into the International Color Quality Club for 2006- 2008, ranking it among the 50 best newspapers in the world for the third consecutive year. Admission to the prestigious club was a long-term process of culture change, says Szachara: “I don’t think you can just focus on ‘getting into the club’ ? and the next day sort of go back to the usual. It has to be part of your culture, and sort of bred into what you do every day.”

Another part of operations culture at Rochester is an emphasis on developing diversity in the production ranks and management. By working with the mailers union and recruiting outside of traditional venues, the D&C has a diverse workforce that allowed it to promote internal candidates into four key management positions in the past several years. And Szachara firmly believes they’ll be leading an industry with a robust future. “I think too often we get caught up in our history, our glorified history, and we can’t afford that,” he says. “We have to continually embrace change, or we’ll be passed by.”

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