Monday, March 17, 2014

PRESS PLANT CLOSURE A ST. PATRICK'S DAY DOWNER FOR THE FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM

I have to suspect that this is not too happy a St. Patrick's Day at the Star-Telegram in Fort Worth, Texas. Last night, the paper's remote press plant printed it's final copies and the 28-year-old facility closed for good.

As someone who worked at the "Startlegram" for four years, first as business editor and then as assistant managing editor for news and special projects from 1982 through 1985, this bit of news saddens me.

Maybe I just haven't been paying attention, but I just learned of the press plant being shutdown this morning when old friend and former fellow Startlegrammer Kenneth Bunting, who now heads the National Freedom of Information Coalition, posted this on Facebook: "When I left the Startlegram in '93, if someone had taken a survey about whether the presses or the digital publishing operation, known then as "Startext," might survive, I suspect the result of that survey would have shown how clueless we all were."

However, as bad as news of the closure might sound, it's not as bad as it could be. In deference to Ken's observation, the paper is not ceasing print publication, just surrendering its press facility in favor of being printed elsewhere.

Beginning tonight, the Star-Telegram will be printed at the Dallas Morning News' press plant. The move, which is being done for sound financial reasons is pretty well explained in this video the newspaper produced and posted on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sxixu8__PJo&feature=share&app=desktop

Although the video strikes a hopeful chord, noting that the decision to close its press plant and be printed on the Morning News' presses will result in significant expense savings over the long haul, it still leaves me with a personal sense of melancholy for a couple of reasons.

First, although the video indicates that readers will not be adversely impacted by the closure and shift to a different printing site, that really is not the case. I speak from experience when I say the move will have some effects that readers likely will notice. That was the case here in the Rio Grande Valley, when the paper I retired as editor of, The Monitor in McAllen, began printing our sister papers, the Brownsville Herald and its Spanish-language edition El Nuevo Heraldo  and Harlingen's Valley Morning Star.  The deadlines for the Herald and El Nuevo were pushed up two hours and the deadline for the Valley Morning Star was pushed up an hour.

Doubtlessly, The Star-Telegram will go to press earlier at the Morning News plant than it has been at its own plant. That, of course, will play hell with updates of important late-breaking news, such as election results. The greatest impact, however, will be on sports news when the paper has to "go to bed" before the final scores come in for late games, possibly including even for some local high school and college sports events. This is bound to not sit too well with sports fans, particular during football season. I know that on the surface it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense that sports readers will be upset considering the fact that many of those late professional and collegiate games are televised and anyone watching to the end knows the score and there are tons of electronic and digital sources that deliver sports scores way before any printed product. But, newspaper sports fans are an unusual breed. For some reason, many of them still apparently feel a score isn't really official until they see it in print in their newspaper along with box score statistics.

Secondly, I watched that remote press plant -- which opened just shortly before I left the paper to become managing editor of The Cincinnati Post -- being built from the ground up and remember how proud all of us were because it was, at the time, going to be THE most modern newspaper printing facility in Texas. Now, 28 or so years later, it just seems sad that it has to close, and sadder still that it means many of the remaining members of the press crew -- which was already down to only 25 percent of what it was when I was at the paper -- will be without jobs.

I got to know many members of the press crew when I was at the Star-Telegram and was always impressed with their skill and their dedication to the job.

Looking back, I can only recall one time during my tenure at Fort Worth when someone from the back shop really ticked me off. It happened one Saturday night in March 1984 when we printed the first part of the Bell helicopter series that went on to win the Public Service Pulitzer Prize.

I called down to the press room -- which was still on the bottom floor of our building downtown -- to hustle me up a hot-off-the-press copy of the Sunday paper so I could quickly proof the first part of the series. Within minutes, one of the pressmen appeared in my office and dropped a couple of copies of the paper on my desk and quickly disappeared to get back to his job.

A few minutes later, when I left my office to take a marked up copy of the story to the copy desk for fixes, I was immediately struck by the inky coming-and-going foot prints of the pressman who'd brought me the paper on the brand new carpeting that had just been installed over the newsroom's ugly black and white tile.

I guess that's what I got for wanting that proof copy ASAP.


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