By Ken Sturtz
This decision reflects a growing national trend in the industry. This comes after more than a century of local printing of the newspaper.
The steel and concrete building rises six stories above North Salina Street, the gleaming glass facade welcoming passing motorists on the elevated freeways as they head downtown.
Inside the cavernous press room is a 750-ton, $25 million printing press that was once one of the most modern in the business, capable of producing 70,000 copies of The Post-Standard per hour. Seven days a week, trucks carried newspapers destined for stores and paper boxes from central New York.
But after more than a century of printing in Syracuse, the owners of The Post-Standard announced earlier this year that local printing of the newspaper would cease in August and production would move to an affiliated facility 250 miles away. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
The newspaper will still be printed seven days a week and home delivery will continue on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, Tim Kennedy, regional president of Advance Local, said at the time of the announcement. The newspaper will be available at points of sale on days when home delivery is not available and the appearance and content will not change.
The 20 full-time and 18 part-time employees who manage the press will be offered other jobs. Those who decide to leave will be offered severance pay.
Advance Media New York, which owns The Post-Standard and operates Syracuse.com and NYup.com, is a legal subsidiary of Advance Local.
The billionaire Newhouse family owns Advance Local, which is the publisher of nine digital news websites and 24 affiliated local newspapers across the country. The Harrisburg Press is owned by Advance and prints The Patriot-News. The facility underwent a $3.6 million expansion in 2015 to allow it to accommodate more customers.
out of the printing press
The economic factors driving the outsourcing and consolidation of newspaper printing operations are not new: advertising revenue and subscription numbers have been declining for years as production costs rise.
“It’s been brewing for a little while, but it’s really accelerated a lot in the last two years,” said Rick Edmonds, media affairs analyst at the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit media organization. “It’s an expense that can be significantly reduced if you outsource rather than let your own employees do it.”
It was not just the expense of personnel, operation and maintenance of the presses that encouraged many newspapers to withdraw from printing.
Distribution has also become more difficult. As traffic has decreased, fewer newspapers are being delivered to a given area, making it harder to create routes that one person can cover, Edmonds said.
Newspaper delivery positions have traditionally been difficult to fill, with many people treating them like a second job. In such a tight job market, the prospect of getting up in the middle of the night for a part-time job is particularly unattractive.
As newspapers have increasingly focused on expanding their digital operations, they’ve had to decide whether to stay in the print business or exit, Edmonds said. Those who stay usually take more printing business.
For example, Gannett, the largest newspaper publisher in the United States with more than 200 daily newspapers, remained in the printing business, consolidating printing in centers located in its largest printing plants and closing others. . The channel salvaged print jobs from competitors.
While Advance’s decision to scuttle its Syracuse printing operation isn’t entirely surprising, it’s a remarkable turnaround from just two decades ago.
In the early 2000s, The Post-Standard was still printed on a press that had been in use since the newspaper moved to its Clinton Square building in 1970. The old press had been designed primarily for black ink, but has been upgraded to print color. The new press was shipped from Switzerland and a new press room was built on top of the existing building. The project cost $40 million.
By 2002, printing had completely switched to the new press, which could print 40 color pages and boasted much brighter, crisper advertisements, photos and graphics.
A decade later, the company announced it was downsizing, reducing home delivery to three days a week and investing in its digital operations. In 2013, its publicity and press teams moved into smaller rented office space.
In 2017, Advance sold the building to VIP Structures, which re-let the printing plant. The lease is due to expire at the end of the year, Kennedy said, which was a major factor in the decision to relocate production.
“Print is not dead”
“It’s sad to hear Advance made this decision, but it makes perfect business sense,” said Alec Johnson, editor and publisher of the Watertown Daily Times. “Printing presses are extremely expensive to operate; it takes talented staff, a lot of upkeep and when things get old, it takes a lot more upkeep.
Family-owned Johnson Newspapers Corp. owns The Times as well as newspapers throughout the North Country, Hudson Valley and Western New York. Johnson said while it’s increasingly common for newspapers of all sizes to outsource printing, the family business has doubled its printing business.
“As a publisher, one of the most important things we can do is remind people that print isn’t dead,” Johnson said, noting that print products remain popular with a broad segment of their readership and provide opportunities for more in-depth news coverage.
The company maintains printing presses in Watertown and Massena. In the past, it owned print shops in Malone, Ogdensburg, the Hudson Valley and western New York, but they have been consolidated. The Watertown Press was installed in 1986 and prints standard newspapers such as The Times and, as of 2019, company newspapers in the Hudson Valley and Western New York. The Massena press was installed in 2002 and is smaller but capable of printing various sizes.
“Scale is key,” Johnson said. “One of the most important things we can do with the printing press is print and keep it running.”
This became a problem for Advance, which in 2014 was still printing seven Syracuse publications in addition to The Post-Standard. Today, the press prints only one daily publication and two small non-daily publications.
Since it is no longer economically viable for many small publications to have their own printing press, Johnson said his family’s business has developed more of an offsite printing business in recent years. The company has more than 50 customers at its Masséna plant, including many community and college newspapers.
As the number of commercial printers dwindled, the company secured printing contracts from farther afield. For example, it now prints the CNY Business Journal, The Catholic Sun, and student newspapers for SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University.
Local News Inc. — which, in addition to Oswego County Business, publishes a health newspaper and a senior-themed magazine — contracted its printing to Scotsman Press in Syracuse until the company closed in 2014 Its magazines are now produced by Dual Print & Mail in Buffalo and its newspapers are printed by Bayard Printing in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
While outsourcing printing has obvious cost-cutting benefits, it raises other issues that need to be addressed, said Jeff Weigand, publisher of Oswego County Media Group, which prints The Palladium-Times and The ValleyNews.
“When people outsource, it doesn’t just affect printing,” he said. “There’s a lot to think about if you’re going to outsource; you don’t just flick a switch.
Distribution is a possible concern. Newspapers want their print products on their doorsteps and in outlets by early morning and when they outsource printing, they typically have to push deadlines to get the papers on time, Edmonds said. Newspaper timelines have generally been shorter over time, which means content tends not to be as new.
The fact that The Post-Standard will be trucked to Syracuse may require pushing deadlines earlier in the winter when the threat of inclement weather is significant, Weigand said.
“Are they going to be able to hold the sports page for that local high school football game or that local late-night Syracuse basketball game?” he said. “I don’t think they’re going to be able to do this any longer.”
Flexibility to push deadlines
The Oswego County Media Group is owned by the Pennsylvania-based Sample News Group, which publishes more than 70 community newspapers in six states.
As recently as 2008, The Palladium-Times had outsourced printing. When Sample purchased the newspaper, he refurbished the existing 1974 press that was on site and began printing in Oswego. In addition to The Palladium-Times and The Valley News, the company also prints the Oswego County Advertiser. One full-time employee and one part-time employee manage the press five days a week. Four or five people make all the advertising inserts by hand.
Weigand said printing in-house gives him the flexibility to push deadlines for big items. On election day, for example, they will hold the front page of the newspaper longer than usual, giving them time to include key election results.
But with a half-century-old printing press, breakdowns are becoming increasingly difficult to repair. A few months ago, a part broke. The part had been discontinued in 1993, so Weigand scoured the internet for a replacement. He found the part on eBay in Germany and bought two.
“So there will be a time when I can’t get something,” he said. “I know I’m going to have to consider outsourcing my printing at some point.” ϖ