Tribune’s Second Test of Chinese Newsprint a Success

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By: Jim Rosenberg

“We ran the test yesterday. It was just as successful as in Orlando,” Tribune Co. Senior Manager, Newsprint, John Cannizzo reported from Los Angeles late last week.

Responsible for buying all newsprint and ink and for recycling, Cannizzo said the paper used in the Los Angeles Times’ downtown Olympic plant Thursday night to print a mono and four-color section demonstrated the same runnability and printability it had shown last month at the Orlando Sentinel.

Cannizzo said the decision to test newsprint from China had nothing to do with cancellation of the Los Angeles Times’ newsprint contract with Catalyst Paper’s troubled Port Alberni, B.C., mill. “Tribune stopped doing business with Catalyst Paper for newsprint over three years ago,” he said. Catalyst was “a very large supplier” to the Times, he added, since the days the mill was owned by Norske Canada and the newspaper was owned by Times Mirror. “We still buy a lot of value-added products from them.”

While the paper from China “is priced extremely competitively,” Cannizzo said, “That’s not the sole driver behind why we’re looking at this.” Tribune, he said, seeks diversity of suppliers, to ensure availability and quality, as well as price.

“I was happy that it was the same sheet we had in Orlando,” said Cannizzo. Even though the West Coast ordinarily gets a brighter sheet than the East, he added, “the China was even brighter than that,” and was actually whiter than it was bright.

Purchased through a paper merchant, 100 tons (131 rolls) of Shandong Huatai Paper Co. newsprint was tested in Orlando and another 100 tons in Los Angeles. A part of the large and diversified Huatai Group, the paper maker listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange had 2005 sales exceeding $385 million. It began producing newsprint in 2001.

In its November test in the Sentinel’s colorful Friday “Calendar” section, the 45-gram newsprint yielded very good results, according to Cannizzo, who cited its “very high brightness, really high opacity.” During that test there was only one web break in the 131 rolls — “a sympathy break” that occurred after and in response to a North American roll’s break on another unit.

“The Chinese sheet had really, really excellent formation,” with “very consistent fiber distribution throughout the sheet,” told E&P in late November. After 20 years in the job, he added, “I was not prepared for what I saw. I was very surprised, very impressed.”

The paper ran first in Orlando owing to roll core issues with the Chinese mill: The Times uses fiber beveled cores, but the mill was winding on straight cores, Cannizzo explained. “It took us a little time to resolve the issue. [So] I offered another newspaper to try the newsprint,” he said.

Tribune’s newsprint chief said preliminary tests at other company properties are unlikely. But a larger, second round of testing is expected.

Since last week’s run in Los Angeles, said Cannizzo, “we have a few minor things to work out with [the mill] logistically.” Chief among them are the rolls’ bar codes, which cannot be read as now printed. Cannizzo said keying in information was feasible for 100 tons but will not be for 500 tons.

That’s the amount Tribune will use in acceptance tests in the second phase, once those logistics problems are resolved. Representatives of the publisher and the paper maker are to begin working on the bar-code issue this week. How soon thereafter acceptance testing can begin will be up to the mill, according to Cannizzo.

“I certainly hope by the end of the first quarter [of 2007] we could have the second phase of the test complete,” he told E&P.

Gannett Co. Inc. also has tested newsprint from China, but has not identified sites or made specific comments on results. Acknowledging having had some discussion with Gannett, which he said reported satisfactory results, Cannizzo remarked, “We don’t really share information well about things like this.”

In a third-quarter conference call with investment analysts, Gannett Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Gracia Martore said several successful pilot tests were conducted at different sites. “We should see some good amount of volume coming in from China starting at the beginning of the year,” she said. “We are very pleased with what we trialed and we anticipate that we will be a buyer.” She would not speculate on quantity.

Gannett Corporate Communications Vice President Tara Connell said the company had no comment beyond those made by Martore. The subject was not raised at the fourth-quarter conference.

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