Jim Witt

Star-Telegram decision to outsource printing the right move for the future

Editor’s note: This column has been updated from the original to correctly reflect the publication schedules for newspapers in Detroit, Portland, Ore., New Orleans and Newark, N.J.

The Star-Telegram announced last week that, beginning in early 2014, our paper will be printed at the huge Dallas Morning News printing facility in Plano, where regional editions of USA Today, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are already being printed.

The reason? It makes good financial sense, and our readers and advertisers will continue to enjoy the same high-quality printing they have come to expect from their newspaper.

The fact of the matter is that in areas such as the Metroplex that have more than one big metro newspaper, joint printing agreements are becoming the norm: In Chicago, the Tribune prints the Sun-Times; in Boston, The Globe prints the Herald.

For much of the time, the printing presses at newspapers sit idle. They crank up once a day for three hours or so, but the rest of the time the iron is quiet. Although many newspapers have tried to fill their open press windows with commercial print jobs, that’s a hugely competitive business.

After looking at all our options, the Star-Telegram made the decision that contracting out our printing made the most sense. We’ve been printing our own paper since the Star-Telegram was founded in 1906, so I will acknowledge that it feels a little strange to be paying someone else to do it.

But the three most important aspects of a newspaper are the journalism it produces, the relationship it has with its readers and the partnership it has with its advertisers to help them improve their businesses — so that’s what we’re going to concentrate on.

The newspaper business has been in the midst of major changes over the past five years, and that is going to continue. As we look into the future, it’s hard to predict just what will happen in the coming years.

It’s clear that digital will become more and more important, and although I believe that print will still be around for a long, long time, the print circulation of most newspapers continues to slowly decline as audience habits change.

In some markets — Detroit, New Orleans, and Portland, Ore. — the newspapers are home-delivered only three or four days a week now. The Star-Telegram, by the way, has never considered such a scenario. (Editor’s note: An earlier version of this column incorrectly said that the Newark, N.J., newspaper prints only three or four days a week. The newspaper actually prints all seven days.)

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But to us, it also didn’t make sense to shoulder the huge expense of maintaining a press when there was a cost-effective alternative that would allow us to continue delivering the same print quality our readers and advertisers enjoy now.

It gives us flexibility for the future and cost-savings right now. We’ll be putting our printing plant in Edgecliff Village up for sale soon.

The most difficult thing about this entire matter, of course, is that all the great people who were responsible for printing and packaging the Star-Telegram every day will lose their jobs. Although they’ll be eligible for generous severance pay and benefits, they will, unfortunately, be casualties of this decision.

Newspapers such as the Star-Telegram have been forced to downsize significantly because of changes in the industry over the past few years. I’ve had to personally sit down with dozens and dozens of journalists in the newsroom — people I hired, people whose families I knew, people I called my friends — and tell them that their job was being eliminated.

Not because they weren’t doing a good job, but because of economic realities brought on by changes in our business, namely the Internet.

I know what some longtime Star-Telegram watchers will be saying right about now: Founder Amon Carter Sr. would turn over in his grave.

I don’t think so. I think he’d agree with this decision. Just like when he was faced with the newfangled technology of his day — radio and television — and decided to turn them into WBAP, which was the first TV station and among the first radio stations in the Southwest.

It hurt the Star-Telegram, because it gave us more competition for news and advertising, but it was the right business decision.

I bet there were a lot of naysayers then, too.

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