THE RANT

News out of North Carolina

Newspapers sacrificing content for nicer print

The-Story-In-A-Newspaper-191R.L. Bynum at the blog “Raleigh & Company” wrote a pretty nice takedown of Paxton Media’s new printing facility in High Point, and why it will mean earlier deadlines and even less relevant content in what was once Paxton’s largest newspaper, The Durham Herald-Sun.

It’s of interest to Sanford and Lee County, of course, because Paxton Media also owns The Sanford Herald, and the Herald’s deadlines have crept closer to the daylight hours steadily over the past seven years.

Tuesday’s Herald marked the first issue printed by High Point’s new “multi-million dollar” Manugraph 360 press. I will admit, there has been a noticeable difference in the product aesthetically. The paper is whiter, there are fewer “smudges,” the print is nice and clean, and the colors in the photos are crisp. Look at the front page of Thursday’s Herald — the smaller front page photo from Wednesday’s bomb scare is a small photo of a man being prepped for a bomb suit. The details of the photo are impressive, without an ounce of color smear.

There’s no way we could have pulled that photo off printing from The Herald’s basement in 2007. So for a photographer or a Kentucky-based designer (more on that in a bit), this new press must be a dream.

But the drawback for papers like The Herald is this — because High Point also prints the High Point Enterprise and the Herald-Sun (both larger papers), The Herald must go to press first. This means earlier deadlines … my guess is somewhere between 8 and 9 p.m. I could be wrong. I left The Herald in August 2011, when we were being both designed and printed in Durham. Our deadline then was just after 9 p.m., which made it hell getting late city council meetings, late-breaking news, any evening high school sports and election results in the next day’s paper.

And that’s the point of Bynum’s piece:

Monday was the first day that The Herald-Sun printed in High Point, and you could immediately see the impact. Late baseball results were missing, and a note was in Tuesday’s newspaper instead of a blurb on the Bulls game. The News & Observer, which doesn’t cover the team nearly as extensively, had a blurb on Monday’s Bulls defeat.

Tuesday’s Bulls victory made the newspaper, thanks to a game that started in the morning. But because of problems with the new press, some print subscribers likely either got their Wednesday newspaper late or didn’t get it until Thursday, according to a note below that was on its website.

The first game of Thursday’s doubleheader ended around 9 p.m., yet didn’t make the print edition. You had to go to the website to get a game story.

The Herald doesn’t directly compete with the likes of The News & Observer like Durham does, so this earlier deadline hurts the Herald-Sun more. But Herald readers are missing out, too. The sports section has become a “look what happened two days ago” publication, and with the website behind a paywall, it’s difficult for the newsroom to use the website as a news delivery tool that can reach EVERYONE. Instead of stories going online first, you see a lot of “see Wednesday’s Herald for more” on Monday nights on the Herald’s Facebook page.

This isn’t a knock on the newsroom. These earlier deadlines (which coincided with smaller newsrooms) were the bane of my existence in my final year as editor at The Herald. One night, I bit the bullet and told my sports editor to wait for the final buzzer of UNC’s NCAA title game in 2009. We ended up going to press 20-30 minutes late. I was then accused the next day of “going rogue” by Durham’s publisher and was written up for it. I want to say I did something similar during Obama’s re-election night … so perhaps I deserved the reprimand.

But in both cases, I knew the Herald was going to have a keepsake paper … one published the next day. I stand by the decision in both cases. Deadlines be damned.

There are ways to get around early deadlines and still have a great paper, though it’s tougher for a daily paper. More focus on opinions, enterprise stories, features and “what does it mean for you” news angles is one way … though if online clicks are any indication, people love them some hard news. That’s where the immediate online news comes in handy … feed the beast as much as you can when you can and rely less on “read more tomorrow to learn more,” because chances are, your readers will have found the whole story somewhere else by then.

Papers the size of The Herald might serve better as twice or thrice weeklies, with more emphasis on the online product. At least on the news side … I won’t pretend to know the business side of such a move, but it seems to be the way some large papers are going, most notably New Orleans and Detroit.

When I started at The Herald, deadline was never set in stone, and there were nights we were up there until midnight or later putting a paper to bed. The ancient printing press downstairs might have screwed up more than one photo in its day, but it allowed us a freedom many newspapers no longer have thanks to consolidated print shops and consolidated design hubs (yes, The Herald is designed in Kentucky by people who know very little about North Carolina, much less Sanford). The Herald went the way of the design hub shortly before I left in 2011, when Durham took over both design and print. At least then, I knew the folks in Durham who were working with us. I could pick up a phone or even drive up there if I absolutely had to. I didn’t like it … but I learned to live with it.

These moves might be saving a few bazillion dollars, but they’re not helping the product, nor are they made with the reader in mind.

 

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About billyliggett

I'm a former newspaper editor who now does non-newspaper things.

One comment on “Newspapers sacrificing content for nicer print

  1. Samuel P. Gaskins
    August 8, 2014

    Thank you. Now I know why I received Wednesday’s paper along with Thursday’s on Thursday morning.

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This entry was posted on August 8, 2014 by in Uncategorized.
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