What’s Behind ‘NYT’ Consolidating Its Printing?

By: Jim Rosenberg

When The New York Times closes its Edison, N.J., production plant in 2008, printing and packaging at its remaining facility for the New York metropolitan area will be aided by a newer, faster press, on-site power generation sufficient to keep the entire plant in operation, and a possible back-up production arrangement with another print site.

Early last week the Times said it will consolidate production at its newer plant in the College Point section of the city’s borough of Queens, eliminate 240 jobs through various severance and buyout packages, and convert its printing equipment from the use of 54-inch-wide newsprint rolls to 48-inch rolls.

The web-width reduction will occasion a redesign suitable for pages that will slim from 13.5 inches wide to 12 inches, but remain 22 inches long. The addition of more pages is expected to compensate for more than half the loss of printable page space, according to Executive Editor Bill Keller.

In a note to editorial staff last week, issued shortly after production personnel were notified, Keller said the web-width reduction alone would shrink the news hole by 11%, but that adding pages will bring the net loss to 5%. “I’m convinced that with good editors and a little time, I could take 5% out of any day’s paper and actually make it better,” he wrote.

Keller also assured staffers that production capacity could meet an increase in regional circulation and would not require earlier deadlines.

Catherine Mathis, corporate communications vice president for The New York Times Co., told E&P that another site will be sought for the “alternative newsroom” created within the Edison plant for use in the event the Manhattan newsroom goes down.

In addition to converting its Goss Colorliner presses to handle the new web width, the Times will install a sixth press in the College Point plant, design and construction of which provided for the future addition of another press line. That plant will be enlarged by 60,000 square feet.

Asked if the Times’ sixth press will be Goss’ latest version of its Colorliner, Mathis said the vendor and type of press remain unspecified. Combined with recent efficiency improvements, she added, the new printing technology will be about twice as productive as existing equipment.

The Times Co. said it anticipates capital expenditures of approximately $150 million for the production-consolidation and web-width reduction projects.

But on top of $100 million in annual costs removed through productivity and other improvements since 2004, Times Co. CEO Janet Robinson said in announcing the changes, the consolidation and web-width reduction are expected to yield $42 million in annual savings and eliminate $50 million in capital investment needed for the Edison plant over 10 years. Robinson estimated that the coming changes to the product and its production should “generate an estimated after-tax return on investment of at least 15% with a payback period of five and a half years.”

Though not prepared “at this point” to discuss back-up printing plans should the one Times plant be unable to function, Mathis said, “we added more generators to our College Point facility.”

Those four Caterpillar diesel generators can now deliver “enough power for the entire building, including the presses,” she said, adding that their output is “enough to power 8,000 homes in Queens.” The company will conduct a study to see if that generating capacity will be sufficient also to power a 6th press, Mathis added.

For the 10 years between the end of its production in Edison and the expiry of its lease there, the Times hopes to sublease the huge plant, built on the site of a former air conditioner factory. It opened in 1992 to supply the capacity and color capability needed to print advance sections of the Sunday Times before the growing number of contract printers of the national edition absorbed much of that work.

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