Issues surrounding Gannett’s closure of its Pueblo Chieftain printing operation in Colorado go way beyond the 51 jobs being lost there, says Local News Initiative editor Mark Caro.
The closure also affects more than 50 hyper-local Colorado publications, for which it was the contract printer.
“Every newspaper printing press closure is another shoe dropping on the local news landscape,” he says on the Northwestern University site.
And the closure – resolved for the Chieftain by a contract with one of Alden Global Capital’s MediaNews Group sites 110 miles to the north – will be just another prompting earlier deadlines, longer drives and higher costs.
Caro quotes Carol Wood, business innovation director of the non-profit Colorado News Collaborative, who says the announcement “sent the whole printing equation into a tailspin”.
Three publishers told her the loss of the Pueblo plant will force them out of business, one sobbing and saying, ‘We can’t take anymore.’
However Wood says, despite fierce industry headwinds, the “pattern of printing-press closures and consolidation” provides opportunities for new presses to come online.
Despite the ‘digital first’ mantra, many publications – particularly those in small communities – still require print to survive.
Caro says that while there’s logic to the consolidation as the industry moves online and printing and mailing costs soar, a “runway” is still needed to make the transition from print to digital. “Chopping off the runway altogether means the plane runs aground,” says Anna Brugmann, policy director of nonprofit coalition Rebuild Local News, noting that many communities still lack broadband internet.
In Vermont, Caro quotes Steve Pappas, executive editor and publisher of the Barre Montpelier Times Argus and executive editor of the Rutland Herald, that the supply-demand balance is reaching a critical point. “There’s not a single working web press in the state of Vermont that can handle newspapers.”
Each of those papers used to operate its own press, but the older plants were closed by previous owners.
Now Pappas is exploring the viability of a collectively-owned modern press in the centre of Vermont, capable of printing “just about everybody” and with everybody investing in it.
And with no established partnerships, financing or facility, “it’s not easy to just pick up a press and get it into place”.
In larger Colorado, publishers have had to look outside the state to find new printers for the mastheads previously printed in Pueblo, some of them short-term solutions, and typically at a 15 per cent premium.
Funding might be available to restart an existing facility, but the Pueblo plant – which Gannett has put up for sale at US$3.6 million – is not seen as an option, given “significant maintenance costs’ which might be required.
Wood describes it as a manufacturing problem and a workforce problem, but beyond that, “this is an access to democracy problem”.