O-R publisher discusses newspaper’s decision to outsource printing

Published Sep 2, 2013 at 12:01 am (Updated Aug 26, 2013 at 9:48 am)

Since mid-August, The Almanac and the Observer-Reporter have been printed in West Virginia, on the press owned by the Wheeling Intelligencer.

The decision to outsource printing operations represents a historic transition for the publishing company, which had been printed its products in Washington since its 1808 founding.

It’s also another indication of the continually changing dynamics of the modern newspaper industry.

Observer-Reporter Publisher Tom Northrop said an aging press that was dedicated only to publishing the daily and weekly newspapers no longer made economic sense.

“Our press was running for two hours a night five nights a week, and four hours each of the other two nights,” Northrop said.

The other industry trend in recent times has been for newspapers to build large-scale printing plants that contract to print numerous papers and run as around-the-clock operations.

“We could either load up the press with printing jobs or have someone else print the paper,” he said, adding that the decision to outsource was also determined by the fact that the Observer’s press didn’t have certain color capabilities that advertisers now demand.

“It was the right press at the right time when we bought it in 1992,” he said. “Now it just doesn’t do what we need it to do. We couldn’t cost-justify buying another press.”

The improvement in the quality of the color was immediately apparent once printing was moved to Wheeling, Northrop added.

Sending the printing and stuffing operations to Wheeling also create “significant savings” for the paper, he said. He also acknowledged that the change meant the loss of 38 jobs; 15 full-time and 23 part-time positions.

“The people who worked in the production operations did a great job for a long time,” Northrop said, adding that the decision to outsource comes at a time of enormous change in newspapers.

“The industry has changed so much in the past few years, it’s just part of the evolution of newspapers.”

The changes will continue in the years to come, he said, but the outsourcing of its printing operations will enable the paper to invest in the future.

“As things migrate online, it will give us more of an opportunity in the future,” Northrop said. “We will commit more resources to the digital side.”

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