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E&P Technical: Dow Deal Done for CTP?

By Jim Rosenberg

A newspaper company that was among the first to investigate computer-to-plate output will soon be among the last to adopt the direct digital prepress technology. Maintaining the story's suspense through its last chapter, Dow Jones & Co. seems to have made a major course correction at some point between late last fall and early this spring.

For most publishers in recent years, a major hurdle in converting to or updating CTP output has been the choice between thermal and violet imaging. Among factors to be weighed and compared are purchase price and operating cost; laser operating mode, service life and replacement cost; plate and dot characteristics; processing requirements; imager speed; net system throughput; and differences in imaging process, in plate handling and sensitivity, and in calibration and maintenance requirements.

Newspapers large and small can be counted among each technology's users. The Wall Street Journal sits near the top of the circulation list, between USA Today and The New York Times, and like those two, Dow Jones' flagship is a national newspaper printed at numerous plants. All Journal print sites have large press runs, but not all are equivalent to a major metro's. Its page count today, however, is as high as or higher than the Times' and other big dailies' weekday editions. Its choice for outputting plates might have gone either way.

It appears to have gone both ways. In December it was thought to be leaning toward violet, according to a source familiar with the company's print operations. But by spring, says the same person, who cannot speak for the company, "we were looking at thermal."

Strictly from an outsider's view, both choices are understandable. Kodak, this market's principal supplier of thermal platesetting systems, inherited a history with Dow Jones when it acquired Creo. Creo earlier had acquired the Scitex business that developed the imagesetters bought by Dow Jones in 2000 in connection with its plants' color-tower expansions.

Most Dow Jones plants are believed to still be using the CreoScitex (now Kodak) Dolev 4NewsV XL internal-drum imagesetters (rated at 50-plus broadsheet pages/separations per hour) and Carnfeldt processors to output film to burn subtractive precoated plates from Konica. Those Dolevs were interfaced with Dow Jones' page-distribution system. Today, says the same source, "they're reaching the end of their useful life. There's a lot of maintenance involved with them."

But last summer, News Corp. bought Dow Jones. News Corp. operates DiamondSetter CTP lines in Britain and at what until now was its lone U.S. daily, the New York Post. The comparatively costly green-laser systems (relying on frequency-doubled infrared lasers) were developed by Western Lithotech in the mid-1990s. The Post purchased its DiamondSetters in 2000. Agfa acquired the Western Lithotech business in 2004, when it acquired Lastra, which earlier had bought Western Lithotech. (Three years earlier, Agfa acquired another major competitor, platesetter supplier Autologic Information International.)

So observers in and out of Dow Jones assumed that the company would stay with Agfa and implement violet platesetting, just as the New York Times recently converted from DiamondSetters to Agfa Polaris violet imagers (and output-management software), in addition to the smaller Agfa Advantage violet devices used at several of its national print sites.

The appointment late last December of former Times operations director and current Post Senior Vice President of Operations Joseph Vincent to the same, additional position at Dow Jones Consumer Media Group seemed to confirm the probability of the choice for output.

Word that the choice had changed in April to thermal CTP could not be confirmed at Nexpo, where sales of three of Kodak's latest, highest-speed, high-capacity Generation News thermal platesetters (see next page) to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and three Agfa Advantage violet platesetters to The StarTribune in Minneapolis were announced. But Dow Jones' decision had become known to operations-side staffers that same week.

Nevertheless, "it's apparently been held up," says one staffer, adding that an implementation plan is still in the works.

"We do not yet have authorization to purchase any computer-to-plate equipment," says Production Vice President Larry Hoffman. "We have a capital request in to make a purchase." The request was submitted in mid-April, he adds, declining to comment on the type of platesetting or its supplier.

According to Hoffman, the 15 one-press plants will run two platesetters each, and the two two-press plants will run three each.

Kodak will not comment, but if it gets the nod from Dow Jones, the contract may call for midrange machines -- the 100- and/or 150-plate-per-hour Trendsetter News rather than the fastest 240-pph model or the Generation News. With multiple machines, the Journal acquires sufficient capacity with built-in back-up.

Dow Jones has no specific start or end date for CTP conversion, and whichever technology is chosen, installations will be spread out over time, with some sites fully converted while others still output film, according to Hoffman.

"Our workflow doesn't care whether it's CTP or film," he says, referring to a PDF/X1a-compliant and "completely linearized" workflow.

Long before that standardized digital prepress workflow was developed and before the Journal needed to calibrate for consistent dot-rendering to optimize color printing, Dow Jones pioneered CTP. Its 1980s collaboration with Information International Inc. (triple-I), which also involved pagination, led to CTP trials at the company's Orlando print site. The project's very large imagers for electrostatic plates came out of Dow Jones' South Brunswick, N.J., engineering department, which reportedly built the prototype.

Before the end of the '80s, however, the project was mothballed. That and an aborted attempt by Autologic and a mid-size New Jersey daily probably were CTP's last false starts. Just a few years later, Gerber Scientific Instrument Co. and Hoechst AG developed the LE55 direct-to-plate laser imager.

Working with Hoechst's Ozasol N90 negative offset plate, the LE55 was soon integrated by Autologic with its own systems. In the mid-'90s Autologic merged with Dow Jones' former partner, triple-I, and by 2000 Agfa had acquired both Autologic and Hoechst. Triple-I's 3850 imagesetter gave Autologic the basis for a better platesetter, which gave Agfa the basis for one of its current platesetter lines -- and the N90 became the basis for better plates, including a chemistry-free version of its current N92.
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Title Annotation:Dow Jones & Co.'s Computer to plate technogy installation
Author:Rosenberg, Jim
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Date:Jun 1, 2008
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