By Candace Renalls
Duluth News Tribune staff writer
DULUTH, Minn. – As he talked about the Duluth News Tribune’s new state-of-the art press, publisher Ken Browall’s excitement showed.
“For those of us who have been in the business, it’s like a work of art in progress,” said Browall, who started at age 10 with a newspaper route. “You stand there. You’re mesmerized by the beauty of it.”
The News Tribune is moving its production operations from the basement of its downtown Duluth building to a new 35,000-square-foot production center on Airpark Boulevard.
There, the new $2.67 million Goss offset press has been assembled and operating on a limited basis as pressmen learn the new technology. It replaces an old Goss flexo press that’s near the end of its lifespan.
Use of the new press is being phased in. The Sunday comics and Scrapbook sections started being printed there early this month, then shipped downtown and inserted in the rest of the paper. The printing of the News Tribune’s sister papers — the Pine Journal, Lake County News-Chronicle, Duluth Budgeteer News and some shoppers — has been moved there, with the Superior Telegram to follow. Like the News Tribune, all are owned by Forum Communications Co., which had earlier consolidated the area’s printing operations in Duluth.
“The products we’ve done are looking great,” Browall said of the new press.
Forum Communications is not only footing the bill for the new press; it bought the former Bernick’s Beverages warehouse for $1.6 million to serve as the new production and distribution center. Add to that the costs of moving, additional equipment needed and other associated expenses, and the investment grows to about $6 million.
“Investing locally in a production facility is not what you’re seeing at large newspapers around the country,” said John Hatcher, an assistant journalism professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth. “More and more papers are getting away from daily print editions of their paper. … It’s definitely good news for us Duluthians that they are continuing to invest in this local product.”
The shift to full production of the entire News Tribune on the new press is expected in February, but could begin as early as next week.
The News Tribune’s offices, including news, advertising and circulation, will remain on the second floor of the downtown building at 424 W. First St., which it owns. But it is seeking to lease out the building’s first floor.
GETTING UP AND RUNNING
The original target date for the new press start-up was late September. But that timetable turned out to be too aggressive for all that’s involved, said production director Mike Farmer.
The new press arrived from China in June in eight large pieces. Prep work, assembly and getting it running took six months. That was complicated early on when two of its sections were damaged. Using a forklift, a hired installer was lifting a section when it slipped and hit another section, causing damage to both. The two units were shipped to a Goss facility in New Hampshire, where they were repaired and shipped back.
“Putting it together is the easy part,” Farmer said of the new press. “Then there’s a ton of things that happen that’s crucial.”
Thousands of feet of wiring must be installed. A loop plumbing system for each of the four towers of the press is needed, as well as piping to deliver the ink. Then the pressmen and assemblers need to be trained on the new systems.
The logistics of phasing in a new press in one location while continuing to use an old press in another also is challenging.
“It’s a long process from start to finish,” Browall said. “But to have it up and running in a year is pretty good.”
Bill Stafford, who has worked for the News Tribune for 38 years, assembling and bundling the papers after they leave the pressroom, likes the new production center.
“It’s super,” he said. “It’s cooler, it’s quieter. The technology is similar. The big thing is the noise. This machinery is much quieter than the old.”
And for Stafford and the other 40 mailers and pressmen, the investment means more job security.
“The way things are going in the newspaper business, we’re all glad to have this new facility,” he said.
COMMITMENT TO PRINT
The new press and production center is a commitment to the print newspaper in Duluth even as the paper continues to put resources into its online content, newspaper officials say.
“It ensures that the printed product will continue,” Browall said. “It’s a question we always get from readers. This is a sign we believe in the printed paper and that it will be around for years.”
For readers it will mean a paper with sharper and higher-resolution color pictures, and more of them. They’ll also see a slightly smaller page, a cost-saving move happening industry-wide.
For the News Tribune’s bottom line, it means a more efficient press that costs less to run. It’s faster. The old press can print 18,000 copies an hour; the new press can print as many as 30,000. The paper’s current circulation is 35,000 daily and 50,000 on Sundays.
With the new press, the News Tribune can print two products at the same time. A second press — a used one from another Forum newspaper — will be added in about a month, which will boost capacity even further.
“It keeps us competitive,” Browall said. “It’s an opportunity to grow business with commercial printing.”
The Duluth News Tribune already prints the Hermantown Star, UMD Statesman and school and community publications as outside jobs.
“We want more printing jobs,” Browall said. “You have to be competitive, and this one puts us in a position to be more competitive.”
Ken Doctor, a media analyst, said what the News Tribune is doing is “insourcing.” It’s the direction some newspapers are going to maintain their printing product.
“The old idea was every newspaper would have a press and would print its paper every day,” he said. “It might take in other work, it might not.”
Now, newspapers either find another company to print their paper, or they invest in their own production facility and take on additional printing jobs to grow revenue when the press is otherwise idle, he said.
“It’s either, ‘let’s get the maximum use of it or let’s have somebody else doing it,’ ” said Doctor, author of “Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape the News You Get.”
The investment in a new press in Duluth comes at a time when not a lot of new presses are being purchased by newspapers. And it comes when more papers are reducing the number of days of their print editions, he said.
That won’t happen in Duluth. With the new press, the print edition will continue seven days a week, Browall promised.