William May, Production Vice President, The Dallas Morning News

By: Jim Rosenberg Today, few young people look to newspapers for a job. But in a similar economy 22 years ago, an aspiring high school teacher did just that.

Until then, Bill May had worked for his father's construction firm. But savings-and-loans began collapsing, stocks fell and home-building headed for a 40-year low. Needing a more stable part-time job while in college, May landed in platemaking at The Dallas Morning News, where he's been ever since ? almost. "I actually left Belo in 2004 and went to work for Media General," he says.

Now in a deeper recession, May has protected the company's commercial printing, putting it under the same roof as the Morning News.

In 2009, May "executed flawlessly" on that consolidation strategy, "while at the same time responding to new commercial opportunities," Morning News President John McKeon wrote in nominating his production chief. May's transition plan for DFW Printing kept most of its business while increasing efficiency at the North Plant in Plano. "The plan was executed in 60 days with minimal disruption" to presses, inserters and workers, McKeon added.

Today, besides Belo's News, Briefing, Al Dia, Quick, Denton Record Chronicle and Neighbors.go, the plant prints Investor's Business Daily, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and the Daily Racing Form ? business that May worked to grow after his year at the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch. The North Plant now "prints more copies, and with greater technological complexity, than had previously been handled in two facilities," McKeon wrote. Greater distribution of Al Dia and Quick, 200,000 more copies of Briefing for home delivery, and the Wall Street Journal account, which May "pitched and won," put it over the top. What's more, the resulting savings exceeded $1 million.

He also oversaw building of the South Dallas plant, for which, he says, "we're making the same considerations" for best use of capacity that were made for the North Plant. Taken into production in 2007, the new plant is "truly a greenfield effort" and "probably the largest project that I've had responsibility for," he says.

McKeon attributes May's success to deep knowledge of production, creative problem solving, meeting high standards and leadership that, as one staffer put it, sets out the path and lets members work. His shop has earned seven USA Today print awards.

Over 20 years, May has watched the industry evolve from its need and ability to deliver more customer-centric products ? with targeted advertising and zoned news and information ? to today's "hybrid" production in which freed-up capacity puts newspaper and commercial operations side-by-side. Tomorrow's subscribers will be able to "order a la carte" from a menu of sections or other offerings, he adds, and the industry will look for "something that would meet those expectations." With so many sources, when readers do want ink on paper, May says, publishers need a good way to accommodate that. Beyond that, the industry should reconsider how it does business. "How do we continue to leverage our assets in the commercial field?" he asks, expecting commercial partners' wants and needs to be similar to those he anticipates for consumers.

"Technologies do exist" to satisfy those customer needs, he continues, but there is still work to be done, depending on "how granular an offering you'd like to provide." It may be easier to create than distribute such products, he adds.

As production chief, says May, "the most difficult thing is you have to live every day challenging yourself, being creative, innovative and provocative in your thought processes." But it's taxing. So he reminds himself that "it's a marathon, not a sprint," and that the reward is being able to look about his facility and realize he's managed to keep people in jobs at a time when everyone knows people who have lost theirs.

At lunch this summer, Jim Moroney asked a similar what-keeps-you-up-at-night question. May told his publisher he worried about missing something, not making the expected contribution, "carrying my load so that others can as well."

Career Highlights
Hired as Dallas Morning News platemaking department trainee, part time, in 1987

Completed two-year training program, developed quality-control and preventive-maintenance program, served as senior journeyman, rose to platemaking foreman, 1992

Became assistant manager, platemaking, 1995

Appointed production manager in 1996

Named assistant production manager/quality, 2000

Promoted to production manager/quality, 2001

Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch production director, 2004-2005

Returned to Morning News as production vice president, 2005


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