The consolidation trend that has roared through newspaper print production is now making its way through prepress operations as publishers nationwide ramp up plans to centralize page design, copy editing and other editorial functions at regional locations.
GateHouse Media Inc. is among the most recent to take the plunge, in January saying it will build two production sites to handle copy editing and other operations to serve its scores of daily and weekly papers.
It joins publishers such as McClatchy Co., Tribune Co., Sun-Times Media LLC, Cox Media Group, Swift Communications, E.W. Scripps Co. and Gannett Co. Inc. as those that have placed editorial functions at locations outside of their newspapers’ newsrooms.
Advances in prepress technologies, combined with the advent of hosted, or cloud-based, deployments, are making it possible for publishers to unify many operations on a single platform, and thus create centralized hubs to perform copy editing and layout.
Behind Gannett, which plans to have its CCI NewsGate-anchored regionalized copydesks operational sometime next year, GateHouse — with 300 daily and weekly newspaper titles — is among the largest to outline a consolidation strategy.
“We aren’t the first to do this, we’re just one of the bigger publishers with a lot of smaller newspapers,” David Arkin, vice president of content and audience, told News & Tech.
In February, the publisher disclosed that the hubs would be placed at the Rockford (Ill.) Register Star and MetroWest Daily News in Framingham, Mass. For GateHouse — itself cobbled together as a result of a series of acquisitions — the move marks the first significant step to get all of the publisher’s papers on a unified system.
“All content will still be created locally, but pages won’t be touched locally any more,” Arkin said.
GateHouse’s Rockford copydesk, slated to be in operation in September, will reside separately from the paper’s own newsroom and will handle news production for papers with circulations of more than 5,000. The Framingham location will oversee the page production of weekly papers and dailies with circulations under 5,000.
GateHouse has not yet revealed the software it will deploy to underpin the production centers, but Arkin said the software will allow users to touch copy once and have it go wherever it needs to. There will be 100 hands-on users at each of the sites.
“The role of the copy editor today is to move copy as they get it,” Arkin said. “Now stories can be sent wherever they need to go.”
A common content initiative is also part of the project, which includes the production of national news pages at each site for those papers that are large enough to carry them. Each paper will decide individually which pages to run and the smaller papers will have access to the national content and can use it as needed to fill space.
“Where in the past they would use wire copy to fill a 20-inch page hole, now we will look at how we can build better pages using our own national copy,” Arkin said.
Workflow for individual papers will remain largely the same, Arkin said, and the most significant changes will include standardizing story budgets across GateHouse by requiring each paper to submit a budget to its respective production center. That will most noticeably affect smaller papers, where staff sit next to one another in the newsroom and make changes without necessarily putting them down on a formal budget, Arkin said.
“There will be a phone call with someone at the production centers to talk through the budgets and then as pages are getting built throughout the afternoon and night there will be a lot of back and forth, just as there is now, but the end points will be different,” he added.
“Clearly there are efficiencies to be gained with projects like these, but it will also allow our newsrooms to improve going forward.” Arkin said. “Although it may be hard to see today, once we eliminate that production redundancy — especially at the smaller sites — we will be much better off.”
Meantime, McClatchy’s papers in the Carolinas — the News & Observer in Raleigh, the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer and the Herald in Rock Hill, S.C.— consolidated copy editing and page design last summer at its existing Carolinas data center.
Flagship Sacramento (Calif.) Bee said it’s mulling a similar move to streamline editorial operations with two sister California dailies, the Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star.
The goal would be to improve economic efficiencies and journalistic quality among the three dailies, according to a joint statement by Sacramento Bee Publisher Cheryl Dell and Executive Editor Joyce Terhaar. A consolidated center would also simplify packaging content for digital platforms, they said.
McClatchy in 2008 rolled out its Carolinas data center to support newsroom functions and content sharing across eight newspapers. One year later, Tribune Co. constructed a comprehensive data center in to link print and Web distribution for 2,300 users across its group of papers, including the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale and the (Baltimore) Sun. As with Gannett, McClatchy and Tribune use CCI’s NewsGate to anchor their operations.
“We provide the platforms and the individual newspapers are deciding how to best take advantage of them,” Neil Mara, McClatchy’s news systems manager told News & Tech. “Charlotte is an example where we didn’t go in with the intention of creating editorial hubs, but that’s how those papers decided they could benefit from the system.
“The copydesk in the Carolinas has been very successful though,” he said.
Mara said The Bee would chart its own course if it opts to combine operations; the California papers run as a separate business unit.
Over the past few months, McClatchy has taken additional steps to streamline functions such as circulation and photo management (see sidebar, page 20).
In Chicago, Sun-Times Media LLC consolidated editorial and advertising management for all of its dailies and weeklies, using software from Atex and Digital Technology International.
“We have moved a lot of the functions from ad operations into editorial,” Jeff Kane, vice president of technology, said. The consolidation also includes ad design performed by Affinity Express, which has handled the publisher’s design for the past three years. Kane said safeguards and approval processes now in place allow page layout incorporating both advertising and editorial to occur without difficulty.
“A number of our publications now have editorial doing complete pagination,” he said.
Melding prepress also eased the impact associated with shifting the production of the flagship Sun-Times and seven suburban titles to the Chicago Tribune, a move that was completed earlier this year.
Final pages for the Sun-Times, the Beacon-News in Aurora, the Courier-News in Elgin, the Herald-News in Joliet, the Lake County News-Sun, the Post-Tribune in Merrillville, Ind., the SouthtownStar and the Naperville Sun are now output directly to Tribune’s Freedom Center.
(Printing of STM’s Pioneer Press group of weekly newspapers remains at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, where they’ve been printed since 2009.)
“We have become an organization that has to manage supply chain because some major functions have been moved to the outside — we’ve gotten out of the printing business,” Kane said. “The changes in technology and the change in our whole strategy have allowed us to do these things.”
Finally, Cox Media Group last fall shifted copy editing for its four major papers to the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News — which already handles similar duties for CMG’s weekly and regional Ohio papers — and Palm Beach (Fla.) Post. The move is part of a year-long project aimed at determining ways to improve operations at the Daily News, the Post and CMG’s two other major papers, the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman and Atlanta Journal-Constitution.