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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

More ominous ticking at the O

Here's a wild one from the local media world: The Salem daily newspaper, the Statesman-Journal, is closing its printing presses next month, and having its publication printed by the O here in Portland from there on out. The papers will then presumably be trucked down to Salem for distribution. In other words, in the capital city it's "stop the presses" -- permanently.

The news raises all sorts of questions. "The contract between the papers stipulates Oregonian employees cannot look at Statesman Journal papers while they're on the presses," says the story. Now, that's funny. The O barely has enough reporting staff left to surf the internet and regurgitate press releases. The prospect that it might start paying people to read somebody else's version of yesterday's news, in hard copy on the printing machinery, is hardly worth worrying about.

Secondly, what does the deal say about the two papers' supposed commitment to "green" this and that? They're going to schlep newspapers down I-5 on trucks in the middle of the night. Is that "sustainable"? Maybe when you take into account that the laid-off workers in Salem won't be driving to and from the plant any more, it reduces the environmental impact of dead-tree information delivery.

Most important, though, is this: The new work is supposed to come on at the O plant on October 14. Is that the day that the O makes its long-rumored transition to printing hard copy only three days a week? Or are the people currently working the Portland presses going to work overtime? We can't imagine that the O is going to be hiring new presspeople in the current environment, and so something's got to give.

Comments (11)

For a long time McMinnville's News-Register did a lot of contract jobs like ad inserts and even the Oregon Voters Pamphlet that then had to be trucked from McMinnville to Portland for distribution.

If there was really a focus on saving the earth we'd ban newspapers and phone books, shut down the USPS and it's (the world's largest) motor pool, slash the city and state motor pools and all but require telecommuting of downtown workers. But of course we aren't because it's too convenient to drive, have a big comfy office, and be able to drive four blocks to Starbucks.

Why not a merger?

Maybe the Oregonian Stater...er Statesman?

Aren't they the same thing anyway? (somebody else's version of yesterday's news)

I love these types of mergers... Tie two rocks together hoping that would help them float better.

This is happening with a lot of papers these days, for precisely the reasons you're citing, Jack. If it's anything like the deals worked out with a couple of papers local to me, the "employees" banned from looking at the competitor's paper will be the general staff, not the press operators. I'll also bet $10, right here and now, that this clause in the contract will be thrown out as soon as someone realizes that nobody other than staff is reading it anyway.

The S-J is a fishwrapper anyway, poorly-to-not edited, simply another link in the Gannett joke chain. This move will just push up by a few hours the time it closes each night, further minimizing the chance of including timely news when the blind pig occasionally finds an acorn.

I read somewhere that other newspapers are trying out this arrangement (outsourcing their printing or providing the outsourcing). Also, Community Newspapers (which prints the Portland Tribune) prints some neighborhood associations' and nonprofits' newsletters. Could be a way to preserve reporting staff and put idle presses to work, but hard to know if it can compensate for the subscription declines.

Maybe the latest news will be transported to Salem readers on speedy cargo bikes.

Maybe the latest news will be transported to Salem readers on speedy cargo bikes

no, it's the new "high speed rail" train that'll serve Portland and Salem at 120 MPH. Of course through the backyards of Lake Oswego, and through the baseball diamond of Tualatin Community Park, and down Salem's Front Street (yes, down the middle of the street).

You know, I was just thinking: what if we're all wrong about this? What if this initial effort is just the forefront of merging the Statesman-Journal and the O into one publication, with lip service made to improved Salem coverage in the papers delivered down there? It's certainly been done before, both with newspapers and magazines. And then, for the punchline, Gannett announces that the O has to go to three-times-per-week printing because it can't afford to cover Salem with the depth that's expected? It has to be more face-saving than admitting that nobody in Portland reads the print paper any more.

Oh, and Jack, I doubt if there's going to be any overtime on the presses, even if the O remains a daily. Remembering the size of the O's main press and distribution center (I used to live around the corner from it, and regularly gained great entertainment from its truck drivers trying to teach their girlfriends how to drive a delivery truck and subsequently taking out tree limbs and the occasional parking meter along SW 16th), I'd be surprised if printing the main paper takes more than a fraction of the day. As it is, most of the weekly ad inserts, the Sunday ad and features sections, and various mailers are run in between main runs at a lot of papers, as well as printing of weekly newspapers, other freebies, and anything else requiring newsprint. Considering how small the O has gotten in the past few years, I wouldn't be surprised if the crew over there manages to rip through both papers' print runs in an evening, and STILL lay off more press operators because of their redundancy.

This is interesting.

The Oregonian has lost more circulation in the last 4 years than what the Statesman or the Bulletin puts out currently.

Gannett's closest paper in Olympia is smaller and as I recall is a USA Today print site. so maybe they didn't have the capacity in the right time frame to print and ship south the Statesman.

It is possible that the Statesman press installation was getting long in the tooth. The cost of replacing it versus farming out the printing for the next 5 to 25 years could look pretty good. Or even dealing with organized labor wasn't worth it any more.

Especially when your subscriber base is shrinking, web offset presses are expensive, and you have a really small window everyday to actually get the paper out, you need a ferrari 2 hours a day.

The other 22 hours a day it's a ferrari sitting there eating up money if it is not printing. It needs to be run 24/7. Otherwise it is a hole in the bottom line.

I could not find a current description of the pressline at the Oregonian. Current tech makes it possible to have multiple editions coming off a web press at one time.
So it is more than likely the Oregonian Hillsboro edition or the Oregonian Northwest edition (aka the bitterbrush edition shipped to the eastside of the state) would be coming off the press at the same time the Salem Statesman is coming off the other end of the press.

Probably no extra employment out of this, just retained or better usage of the current employee.


basically adding the Statesman to the print mix at the Oregonian is a 10% blip in production, if that based on page count.

Just better usage of the current employees at the Oregonian plant. It's just better usage of resources.

There probably be some sort of Gannett provides the paper clause because they are probably getting a better price on newsprint than Advanced is...

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