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E&P Technical: news in another dimension.

Less than two months after what executive editor julie Doll hailed as a "fat Monday," the Journal & Courier in Lafayette, Ind., seems to be adapting well to printing and packaging North America's first daily produced in the Berliner format. July 31, 2006, dawned with delivery of a very large edition -- 76 pages -- of what was supposed to be, by most other measures, one of the paper's smallest.

That first day's page count ran at least twice the paper's usual number, a decision that was "driven by advertising," says J&C President and Publisher Gary Suisman. Extra ads, he explains, meant increasing the number of news pages.

Suisman says advertisers liked the color available in the redesigned, offset-printed newspaper, in which ads are now priced according to the percentage of the page they occupy rather than by the inch.

A result of multiple reader focus groups -- and the subject of heavy and continuing promotion, including community events, contests, and a commemorative edition -- the smaller, more colorful J&C is a product of press and post-press equipment designed specifically for the Berliner. The paper's well-received new format is actually more than 100 years old, according to Vince Lapinski, chief operating officer of web operations for MAN Roland Inc., which sold the press that prints the 36,155- circulation Gannett daily.

The format has enjoyed a recent surge of interest owing to efforts to cut consumption of pricey newsprint and to offer readers news in a more convenient package. But any trend to convert has mostly been overseas, notably in Europe, where the likes of France's Le Monde and Britain's The Guardian (like Lafayette, also heavily promoted and laden with color) became Berliners late last year. Belgium's De Morgen (printed on a KBA waterless-offset Cortina and 1994 winner of Europe's Best Designed Newspaper award) joined the ranks of Berliners in the spring.

Generally designed and folded like small broadsheets, Berliners ordinarily have been shorter and narrower than traditional broadsheets. J&C pages measure 12 inches wide by 18 inches deep. But with conversions to 48-inch (or less) web widths producing 12-inch-wide pages, the Berliner soon may be only shorter. A recent J&C story put it well, describing its pages as the same width as Gannett's nearby Indianapolis Star, but three inches shorter.

Page sizes and paper weights

While J&C page dimensions decreased, its type size did not, and its page count increased -- and not just for the ad-heavy launch. "We redummied a week's worth of newspapers" in advance of the conversion, says Gannett Production Vice President J. Austin Ryan, in order to gauge its impact on the pressroom. That exercise showed it would take 10 to 12 extra pages per week to offset the size reduction, he says, adding that the figures do not necessarily represent what actually is being printed.

Even on an equalized basis, page-count averages available in early September showed a huge year-over-year increase. But Ryan says that because it was still regarded as a launch period with many ads, comparisons are probably invalid. He expects a more meaningful comparison this fall.

A Monday edition typically was expected to run between 28 and 32 pages. While the new format could reduce newsprint costs by 10% or more, according to Suisman, Doll anticipated the space devoted to news coverage staying about the same -- meaning at least some extra pages. So while writers are expected to craft stories to fit the smaller page, the paper continues to publish long stories, when warranted.

Gannett's 13 dailies west of the Missouri River now print -- or will by mid-January -- on lighter-weight newsprint, according to Ryan, but all its newest plants have run the lighter stock from the start. Ryan says Gannett will continue selective use of 27.7-pound newsprint until it gets consistent quality across all mills, he says, "as we've experienced with 30-pound."

In Lafayette, says J&C Operations Director Travis Komidar, "We have seen what we would consider to be a greater amount of linting" with light-weight newsprint than with the standard weight. Other than that, he adds, he's seen no big difference or running problems -- only some initial register difficulty, and only partly attributed to the newsprint and since overcome.

As was its standard newsprint, the J&C's lighter paper is supplied primarily by Tembec's Pine Falls, Manitoba, mill (which last month averted a strike by union members who worked without a contract for a year).

Quality is especially important for the lighter sheet, which is more susceptible to breaking and show-through than standard newsprint. Only with acceptable runnability and printability will savings accrue to publishers, because while more paper per ton equals more pages or copies per roll, lighter-weight newsprint costs more.

Gannett is working with its mills to obtain and maintain the desired quality. "You can either be ahead of them and help them," Ryan says, "or just accept" what comes on the market. But for him, just "accepting" is not acceptable.

New press for a new format

One of Gannett's last few letterpress sites (others are Monroe and Shreveport, La., and Huntington, W.Va., with a di-litho conversion in Utica, N.Y.), Lafayette could convert only because it was about to buy a new, offset press for a new, remote production plant. Newspapers printing some version of traditional broadsheet or tabloid cannot produce a Berliner.

"You're going to have to buy a new machine," says Lapinski. Allowing that it may not be impossible to make the required reduction to cutoff to an existing press, he adds that any such conversion, at least in the field, would be highly impractical, especially with need for a new folder.

While most of the J&C's 200 employees and its now-idle 1960-vintage Goss Headliner Mark I letterpress (a half-million-dollar investment at the time) remain at its downtown headquarters, about 25 people moved to the new, 47,000-square-foot plant just east of town.

Most of the project would have to be compressed into a year: A contractor would be chosen by the end of 2004 and the press hall had to be ready for an installation in January 2006. Owing to that schedule, Gannett chose a design-build approach to the project, which Komidar managed.

Five contractors bid on the project; each was given a list of prequalified architects to consider, according to Nancy Houser, Gannett's manager/facilities projects. The plant was designed by STOA in Pensacola, Fla., and built by Pepper Construction. STOA, she adds, designed facilities for Gannett's dailies in Pensacola and Lansing, Mich.

The paper reported that the press accounted for about half the project's $24.1 million cost. Before they made their move, three pressroom staffers went to MAN's plant in Plauen, Germany, for initial training and saw their press being built.

The modernization occasioned some different responsibilities but no job losses, according to local and corporate executives. Gannett's Ryan says he expects packaging to add one or two full-time positions.

Suisman reports that staff adjustment to the offset press has been little different from any other production start-up or move to a remote plant, with no format-specific issues.

"It's off to a good start," the publisher says, adding that in general, the "equipment has worked well," though it requires some learning for staff and some tweaks to printing and packaging equipment alike. After two weeks' production at the new plant, says Suisman, there was "only one night" that ran a little late.

Weighing 26 tons each and sitting on a seven-foot-thick concrete pad, the three Geoman press towers with four in-line end-mounted reelstands can print a 48-page paper entirely in color in one run. With a fifth, commercial former for webs up to 35 inches wide, 2:3:3 jaw folder with quarterfolding capability, and cylinder stitcher, the press is capable of producing trimmed and bound commercial work which, Doll told readers, will be undertaken only after newspaper production is running smoothly.

According to Lapinski, press design for the Berliner format consists mostly of cylinder geometry and a folder "in sync with the shorter cutoff." The press hall, he adds, provides space for an extra footprint on the other side (to the nose) of the folder, should the press require expansion.

A graphic tour of the Geoman was included in a reader's guide to the reformatted, redesigned edition that was distributed in late July in one of the last broadsheet editions.

Modernization extends to computer-to-plate output in prepress, where two Kodak Trendsetter News 100 devices image Kodak thermal plates. The platesetters were installed "in early May to support the press-testing schedule," says Komidar.

The paper naturally aims for low levels of waste to complement workflow efficiencies of CTP and press automation, as well as consumables economies derived from CTP and a smaller format. Figures from only the first month's operation, however, cannot fairly represent what the paper may expect to attain.

Ordinarily, says Ryan, Gannett will expect a site during its first year of operation to come in at the industry average for waste -- high at first, with low figures for the last months. But start-up is more difficult in a single-press rather than a multiple-press environment, he adds.

Where parallel production in the latter case can help hide start-up learning, a single-press site finds it harder to get the same amount of time for training and testing before live production commences because there is, comparatively, "such a restriction of resources," Ryan explains.

MAN personnel are still in Lafayette to support pressroom operations. "I think we're at least 30 days away from starting to see people disappear," Komidar says of the vendor technicians, including those from GMA assisting in post-press operations.

Post-press processing

The mailroom handles approximately 30 Sunday inserts, including such unpaid pieces as the classified prerun. As elsewhere, volume grows in fall, both in number of inserts and in the number of pages.

Some larger inserts protrude from the Berliner newspaper jacket -- something Gannett knew to expect -- but "the inserting machine is made to handle that," says Suisman, referring to the modified 18:2 GMA SLS3000. On GMA's NewsGrip single-gripper conveyor, "the gripper seems to reach over [protruding inserts] and grip the main itself," holding the paper closed along its one unfolded edge, he adds.

The inserter relies on carry-down rollers and other devices to ensure that inserts drop and stay where they should, according to GMA Mechanical Engineering Manager Tim Voorhees. For the inserter, GMA built a special pocket with a flippable bottom that can be engaged for use with a smaller jacket or retracted for a full broadsheet's depth.

Voorhees acknowledges that there can be some "slight foldover" to an insert, depending on how far it protrudes. Contributing to insert security are two GMA CombiStack systems, each affording good product control by combining several packaging functions in one place, and the extension of bottomwrap up to 24 inches, which protects inserts from being ripped when bundles are tied.

Announcing the contract last December, Suisman said GMA had met concerns about automatically repairing missed inserts that are larger than the jackets they fill, retaining inserts in jackets en route to tie lines, tyers tearing protruding inserts, and overall bundle quality. For its part, GMA said it showed it can properly and consistently process, transfer, and contain a Berliner at high speed, with up to 45 inserts per jacket.

Successful inserting into a Berliner depends to a great extent on how an operator "goes about machine set-up," says Voorhees. "We're having minimal issues from the point of view of small jacket size," he notes, adding that the customer "still has learning-curve issues." He says some growing pains are to be expected in learning machine set-up for the smaller size, but eventually it will work.

He points out that it's been working with two GMA machines at a German newspaper where they've been running in production for almost a year. The machines also have been used for years to insert into an even smaller jacket -- a Harte-Hanks Pennysaver in California. More recently, GMA supplied inserters for two more European papers -- the Westfalische Anzeiger, a Berliner in Hamm, Germany, and Switzerland's Zofinger Tagblatt, a small broadsheet.

Assembly of home-delivery copies was still "a little bit of a struggle" after producing the first two Sunday packages at the new size, according to the publisher. At the time, Suisman said he looked to GMA to make some adjustments, because performance in the field didn't match that in the factory. Though not on deadline, Saturday pre-inserting for the Sunday edition takes "a little longer than we'd like."

The focus of attention has been passage of preprints through the inserter, where it is "important that they're as centered as possible," says Suisman. He explains that while he can live with inserts sticking up from the smaller paper, poor centering can cause too much of the inserts to protrude from the side, which can then cause bundling problems on the CombiStack.

Ryan says although "the inserter and gripper are performing well," he expects improvement as the crew learns the equipment and GMA does what it can.

GMA also supplied a dock distribution system, truck-loading equipment, and a press-delivery beltstream conveyor from TMSI, products that are now sold through Cannon Equipment.

Inserts that wear protection

Last December, Suisman referred to another concern that GMA had addressed: ensuring that inserts don't sneak out of single copies on racks or vendors' shelves. GMA's solution was its PowerWrap, which encases and seals collated preprints, inserted sections, or even entire editions in clear plastic. It's one more part of post-press that helps protect those outstanding freestanding inserts from tearing on tie lines, as well as from disappearing from single copies.

Lafayette is GMA's first PowerWrap installation, and it includes two feeder positions to place premium onserts before wrapping.

Ryan and Suisman offered different assessments of PowerWrap soon after it went into live production. The system relies on a polyethylene sheet wrapper from Italian supplier CMC. Compared with inserting, the publisher said in mid-August, plastic wrapping "has gone better. That's on deadline."

Ryan, however, saw it as a larger problem than the inserter -- initially, at least, "not performing to the expected levels that were established." But in fairness to GMA and J&C staffers, he continued, "it's really tough to train people when you're only running once a week." Newspaper and vendor staffers alike, he added, "need to fine tune their skills."

While the wrapper had been running well on smaller, lighter products, it "has performed better in the last two weeks on our larger Sunday product," Ryan said last month, noting the additional experience with the equipment.

Whereas PowerWrap seals up only the Sunday insert prepackage within home- delivered copies, it wraps the entire newspaper for the Sunday edition's 13,000 to 14,000 single-copy sales. The inserts go into the main section and the entire package then is wrapped.

MAN's Lapinski says a number of publishing companies are carefully watching Lafayette. He says the J&C and MAN will host an open house at the plant next year, once the staff has gained more experience following its transition to the new printing process and new location. And while his company "will push hard" to promote the Berliner format, Lapinski says that already "there's a lot of interest" among all the big groups that have newspapers in smaller markets.

But before it will consider the scaled-down format for any of its other sites, Gannett will need to have "some history" in Lafayette to go by, says Ryan. "We need at least six months."
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Title Annotation:Journal & Courier
Comment:E&P Technical: news in another dimension.(Journal & Courier)
Author:Rosenberg, Jim
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2006
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