Big issues face SuperCon crowd p.12

By: Jim Rosenberg & Mark Fitzgerald Taming digital ads, Portable Document Format lead discussion
The breadth of the SuperConference
program seems to match the buzz among early registrants, whose concerns run from bringing in difficult digital files to sending out better news-and-ad packages.
The range of interests and problems brought to the annual Newspaper Association of America event Jan. 10-15 in Orlando is reflected in comments from managers at group-owned and independent papers, small and large, in various markets. Exploiting the Portable Document Format (PDF), taming digital ads, and making mailrooms more productive are recurrent themes.
Technical and production managers
remain circumspect about computer-to-plate output, questioning their own or the
technology's readiness and its cost. At Howard Newspapers, which hoped to convert to CTP a year ago to eliminate plate-processing chemistry, the price of thermal plates, among other factors, "doesn't make it feasible to switch at this time," says Brian Lewis, operations manager at the group's 47,000-circulation Waterloo (Iowa) Courier. (Lewis does hope to at least eliminate darkroom chemistry by adding four newer, better, cheaper digital cameras to the one older model his paper now uses.)
"Proofing is an issue as we become more paginated and we're going direct to negative," says Lewiston, Maine, Sun-Journal technology vice president David Costello, who cites the disparity between his Rainbow's proofs and imager's results.
Can one type of proof or proofing device serve a newspaper's various internal and external purposes? In the near future, says Dena Greenawalt, Arizona Republic technology development manager, "you may get to that, but it all depends on how much money you have to spend."
Other than for special products and
occasional four-color ads, says Greenawalt, the Phoenix daily uses the same devices to generate both internal and external proofs, and then mainly for content rather than color quality.
As hard-copy ads and pages disappear and color demands grow, proofing may become a priority. But ultimately, says Greenawalt, it all depends on how
customers have been educated and what they've come to expect from a given news-paper. "If print quality is consistent, proof quality becomes a non-issue." Besides, she adds, "proofing is really one of those things that's in the eye of the beholder."
A technology holding promise for proofing (as well as archiving and much of the workflow) is the Portable Document Format (PDF). In one way or another it seems to figure into everyone's concerns ? not least in relation to ads.
For Lewiston's Costello, PDF is a huge draw of the SuperConference because it involves the constant battle in taking
digital ads. At his 40,000-circulation daily, it means taking mostly Macintosh-made ads into a PC-based shop. "The IT department probably spends about 25 to 30 hours a week just dealing with
outputting," he says.
A fully developed PDF, says Costello, "would be great" as a single standard, and one that could solve such problems as missing fonts and lost logo files. Attending his first SuperConference, Costello says he'll be comparing notes with others and listening for what's coming in the year ahead ? notably hoping for a filter to
easily import a PDF file to an XPress page.
From Phoenix, Greenawalt wants to see where the industry is going with PDF and what standardization may emerge. Phoenix Newspapers, she says, already employs PDF for internal distribution of cover page proofs, moving material from a new editorial-pagination system to the corporate Web site and creating sales
presentations ("You don't have to be a PowerPoint expert").
The Phoenix paper also will explore PDF as a replacement for physical tearsheets, at least for agencies and larger advertisers. "We ought to generate
electronic tearsheets and get out of that business," says Greenawalt.
Waterloo's Lewis, who's attended all four previous SuperConferences, returns to Orlando this weekend to find out if
others are having problems similar to those he's experiencing with digital ads. "That's going to be my main topic," he says. With newer, faster IPTech raster image processors being fine-tuned, hung-up ads are especially frustrating. Trouble-some files, he says, are primarily large ads arriving over AP AdSend. His preliminary assessment is that the ads' complexity (layering, numerous elements), not their mere size, is contributing to his main problem ? fast filling of server disc space. Once the ad files "get to the RIPs," he says, "they print fine."
In spite of fairly stable, lower newsprint prices, interest in narrower web widths remain, because of the economies it offers and newsprint's often unpredictable commodity pricing.
While no single pressroom operating issue stood out, mailroom issues remain important. It may lack the "glamour" of high-tech prepress or high-iron press, but everything comes together in the packaging center, where further automation and
productivity improvements are sought.
Though previously focused more on prepress issues, Greenawalt says she's attending this year "for the post-press side of the house,"
prepared to examine packaging and distribution technologies, integration issues, insert quality and perhaps most important, database marketing.
To succeed in target marketing, she says, "you've got to have good interfaces, prepress through post-press." The principal challenge she sees is figuring out how to get information from the business system to the post-press
control systems.
With his area's unemployment down to about 4% (and doubts about how many of those actually looking for work will take a midnight shift), Costello notes that the Sun-Journal has difficulty staffing its mailroom. "We're looking for ways to automate cost effectively to make it a more productive area," he says.
"What is the technology out there that allows you to do that?" he asks, trailing off into such possibilities as hopper loaders, direct-to-pocket inserting and ever finer zoning.
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