Press: Keith Pierce

By: Jim Rosenberg

When Keith Pierce arrived in Detroit in 1993, he brought a background that included production of magazines and catalogs, as well as a major metro daily that would undergo production upgrades and ownership changes in a highly competitive market ? New York’s Daily News.

In many ways, his engineering and production experience was ideal. The Detroit News?Detroit Free Press joint operating agreement soon would have to decide how to rationalize production: operate from existing plants, renovate and expand one plant and close the other, or build an entirely new plant.

After two to three years of studying market, distribution, and editorial needs, it selected the second option, with a $177 million investment in plant and equipment that assumed production would not be interrupted and part of the payback would come from commercial work.

Pierce made it all happen. He conceived and planned the expansion, was cited for dedication and management that led to a successful start-up and production of both papers in 2005-06, and, wrote Gannett Co. Inc. Production Vice President J. Austin Ryan in Pierce’s nomination, “was instrumental in securing several commercial printing jobs.” Furthermore, every phase was completed on time, the project came in under budget, and capability and quality expectations were exceeded.

That’s quite an accomplishment for any operation, especially one of Detroit’s size. Making it more difficult were space and traffic constraints at the North Plant, a building open to the winter weather; destruction of some facilities before the construction of new ones; and the need to maintain production and distribution of two big daily newspapers.

But even as Detroit Newspapers could draw on Pierce’s background, Pierce had to contend with Detroit’s backdrop of turmoil. In the summer of 1995, about 1,400 workers from six unions unsuccessfully went on strike at the papers, costing an estimated $100 million after one year and depressing circulation by about 30%. Ten years later, with the plant project well under way, changes at the top seemed imminent. Quite likely, however, the result was stabilizing when Gannett sold its Detroit News to MediaNews Group, bought the Free Press from JOA partner Knight Ridder, and emerged with a 95% share of the JOA’s business.

With major labor issues, ownership changes, and the plant expansion behind him, Pierce has several Gannett President’s Rings and an extraordinary plant to show off. “We redesigned the workflow completely, from receipt of newsprint through packaging,” he told E&P.

Accustomed to eight daily sections run collect, Detroit’s goal was to run straight with more color but without reducing the papers’ size. A seventh former makes that possible. Predrilled to facilitate a now- accomplished conversion to a 48-inch web width, its more productive MAN Roland Geoman presses were the first with spray-bar dampeners and nickel-coated cylinders. Prepress features not only CTP, but also intelligent automated plate transport. Press and post-press are supplied by high-bay automated storage and retrieval. The mailroom sends more papers directly to inserters, which have double-out capability. Copies pass through bundle distribution and automated cart loading en route to about two dozen distribution centers.

And as quality improved, waste declined. Newsprint waste goals were exceeded in the first year, hours per page fell, pieces per hour rose substantially, and soon after the operation was in full swing, the last-truck-out-on-time percentage hit a record 94%.

Achieving that meant making the most of new hardware and software, and Pierce arranged some 25,000 hours of training for all personnel ? made possible by use of loaners in the pressroom. With human resources he developed the Operations Leadership Initiative for 28 supervisors and managers. And with job cuts exceeding 20% the year the new plant was ready, Pierce nevertheless saw to it that more than half of all promotions went to minority and female candidates.

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