Community publisher commits to new press, facility

April 11, 2014

By Stanley Schwartz

Managing Editor | Publishers’ Auxiliary

JANESVILLE, WI—In the early years, most community newspapers printed their own papers. When large groups started to buy up the smaller papers, printing facilities were closed and central plants came online to handle the jobs.

In the last 10 to 20 years, a lot of independent newspapers with their own presses were facing either the necessity of replacing or upgrading aging equipment. Some did and others decided to outsource their printing to other facilities.

These days, however, said Tony Smithson, production manager for Bliss Communication’s printing and distribution facility in Janesville, WI, it’s more about cost than aging equipment.

“I ask publishers ‘Are you in the newspaper business or the printing business? Because you don’t have to be both.’”

It is this type of logic that has helped Smithson build the printing side of Bliss Communications business. In 2007, the company made the commitment to build a 55,000-square-foot state of the art facility that could handle printing and distributing numerous newspapers. Currently, Smithson said, the plant prints four dailies, and about 50 weekly, semi-weekly and monthly publications.

Smithson, who had worked for Gannett Co. for many years, was impressed with the automation choices the family owned Bliss Communications had made when deciding to build its new facility.

“There is a lot of flexibility built into the building, which is just beautiful,” he said.

With more automation, he said, the fewer press people they need. The day shift at the plant is just two people, Smithson added, both with more than 25 years experience. Granted, that is the slowest time, but it shows that the plant can function with minimal staffing.

He noted that the night shift is the busiest, with most customers wanting their papers delivered early. Coordinating all the publications printing times takes some doing.

“But once you have worked with the various publications and know how each of them operates and what they want, it becomes easier,” he said.

The KBA Comet press can print a 32-page broadsheet with four-color on every page. Having that kind of capacity, he said, has allowed him to gain customers with various sized papers.

Even though some have different sizes and want different weight newsprint, Smithson said, the papers are more alike than many of them would want to admit when it comes to printing needs.

“They all want their grocery inserts on the same day,” he said.

For one daily paper, Smithson said, even though the printing plant is not in its town, the new press and distribution staff was able to get the entire press run to the paper’s carriers in the same time it took for that paper to get its first papers off its old press. Utilizing rolling quadra carts, his staff can wrap and get the papers right to the carriers’ cars.

“And we can do it over and over, every day,” he said. “Each newspaper has its own challenges,” he added, but with each run they learn how to do it better and more efficiently.

Because Bliss a newspaper company, he said, it makes the Janesville plant a good fit for printing other newspapers.

“We know that sometimes, like during an election, a press run will have to be delayed,” he said. “We can expect things like that.”

Because there is so much automation built into the plant, Smithson said, he does not have to seek experienced press people to run the machines. Having a degree in computer science helps.

“We can teach them about printing from there,” he added.

With so many papers being printed at the plant, Smithson said, he is able to negotiate good prices on newsprint. It also helps that his is part of the PAGE Cooperative, a not-for-profit, member-owned cooperative buying association.

Maybe years ago, newspapers didn’t really work that well together, Smithson said, but these days he is seeing more and more cooperation.

Most of the Janesville plant’s customers are with 120 miles of the facility. But Smithson said he is checking into some trucking companies that ship farther out with an eye on continuing to expand his business base.

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