The last run: Gazette ceases in-house printing, distribution

  • The pressroom at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Friday. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Atticus Porter, left, and David Arce prepare for a press run, Friday, July 24, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Atticus Porter walks from the second floor of the press at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Friday, July 24, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Pressroom at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Friday, July 24, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Used plates in the press room at the Daily Hampshire Gazette. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Chris Kostek, a press operator, talks to Bill Foster, operations manager for the pressroom, pre-press and distribution, in the plate room at the Daily Hampshire Gazette. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Atticus Porter changes a paper roll on the press, Friday, July 24, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kevin Robertson changes a roll of paper on the press at the Daily Hampshire Gazette. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kevin Robertson changes a roll of paper on the press at the Daily Hampshire Gazette. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kevin Robertson changes a roll of paper on the press at the Daily Hampshire Gazette. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • David Arce takes plates from the platemaker in June. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Plates of newspaper pages move down a conveyor in June. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Atticus Porter attaches plates to the press in June. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Brian Neal, left, and Atticus Porter handle a press run in June. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Brian Neal, a press operator, monitors the printing of the Athol Daily News in June. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A sign and a letter on the bulletin board in the plate-making room. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • David Arce sends pages to the platemaker. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Brian Neal, a press operator, handles a press run in June. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Atticus Porter checks a copy of the Athol Daily News during a press run in June. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Greg Harris, center, adjusts the hopper of an inserter beside Colleen Graves and Remington Steele. The inserter inserts advertising flyers into the newspapers. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Colleen Graves works at the inserter, a machine that adds advertising flyers to the newspapers. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Copies of the Athol Daily News roll down a conveyor during a press run in June. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Atticus Porter takes a newspaper during a press run at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Friday, July 24, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Christie Labonte, from left, Jessica Torres-Fontanez and Ted Motyl ready newspapers for mailing. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Remington Steele adds advertising flyers to the inserter, a machine that inserts advertising flyers into the newspapers. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Laura Oldham stacks newspapers in the distribution area. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kevin Robertson checks copies of the Daily Hampshire Gazette during a press run in June. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dan Taillon palletizes newspapers in June. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Complete copies of the Athol Daily News hang on a conveyor in the distribution room in June. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kevin Robertson checks copies of the Daily Hampshire Gazette during a press run in June. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Chris Kostek, a press operator, walks on the second floor of the press in June. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kevin Robertson checks copies of the Daily Hampshire Gazette during a press run in June. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • The Daily Hampshire Gazette rolls on a conveyor during a press run, Friday, July 24, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Brian Neal, left, and David Arce replace plates on the press in between press runs, Friday. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Chris Kostek monitors a press run in June. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kevin Robertson checks copies of the Daily Hampshire Gazette during a press run in June. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kevin Robertson checks copies of the Daily Hampshire Gazette during a press run in June. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Copies of the Daily Hampshire Gazette hang from a conveyor in the distribution area in June. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Copies of the Greenfield Recorder hang from a conveyor in the distribution area in June. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • David Baranoski, a platemaker at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, inserts a blank plate to be burned. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • David Baranoski, a platemaker at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, places blank plates to be burned and placed on the printer. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Plates being made for pages to be placed on the printer. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • David Arce puts a plate on the press, Friday, July 24, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/26/2020 6:50:40 PM

NORTHAMPTON — After nearly 235 years of the Daily Hampshire Gazette being printed in Northampton, the last edition will come off the press at the newspaper’s 115 Conz St. headquarters Monday night.

Beginning Tuesday, the printing of the Gazette, as well as sister papers the Greenfield Recorder and Athol Daily News and the weekly Amherst Bulletin, will be done at a Gannett Co. Inc. press in Auburn.

The decision by company owner Newspapers of New England to shut down the flexographic press, announced by publisher Michael Moses in June, comes at a significant cost savings.

Nine full-time employees and 20 part-time workers, in both the pressroom and distribution department, will be laid off as a result.

One of the people who will be working his final day at the Gazette is Kevin Robertson, a mainstay on the press for the past 41 years.

Wearing a navy blue uniform and ball cap and washing his hands at a sink during a break in the production schedule, Robertson said he has always made sure the printed newspaper reaches thousands of subscribers and local newsstands.

The COVID-19 pandemic, though, has made for challenging economic times.

“Under the circumstances, it’s quite predictable,” Robertson said of the company’s decision. “The fact is there’s no advertising, and you’re not generating enough revenue.”

Robertson, who earlier in the day manipulated rolls of paper weighing more than 1,000 pounds onto the three-story press, said he remembers days in the mid-1980s when 22,500 copies of the Gazette rolled off the press daily. Now, about 12,000 copies are printed each day.

“I can’t say that it’s us going out of business, but this time everyone is being impacted financially,” Robertson said.

Moses praised the workers who have made sure the Gazette and other publications are printed and delivered.

“The closure of our printing facility has nothing to do with their work,” the publisher said in a statement. “They performed miracles keeping the press rolling day after day, year after year.

“Unfortunately, the industry is faced with rapid change, pushed forward by new technology, related financial structures, and more recently, COVID-19,” Moses said. “The trend over the past 15 years has been to close down printing presses and relocate the printing to regional print facilities that can afford, due to volume, the latest in printing equipment, which results in lower production costs.”

In fact, when the press first began operations, in 2008, it was one of 38 flexographic presses in the country. Now, with its closing, just one will remain in operation.

Gazette Editor in Chief Brooke Hauser said the mission of the newspaper to report and inform readers continues, but it will no longer have “the physical symbol of the freedom of the press” in the building.

“The production of the news is still local, but printing of it won’t be, and that’s a loss,” Hauser said. “I’ll miss people coming in for tours of the press — it’s an educational resource — and the people who have worked so hard to get our paper into the hands of readers.”

Last month amid negotiations with Newspapers of New England, the Pioneer Valley NewsGuild union representing Gazette and Valley Advocate employees launched a campaign to urge the company to keep the press operating.

The company and the union have reached a tentative severance agreement. The terms include one week’s pay for each year of service, up to a maximum of 15 weeks. The company will also cover health care and dental care through the remainder of 2020 for affected employees who currently participate in the plan.

The decommissioning of the press is set to begin Tuesday.

New press

The 112-foot-long, 33-foot-high and 220-ton Cerutti S-4 flexographic double-width press that came from Italy began printing the newspaper two years after Newspapers of New England purchased the Gazette.

CEO Aaron Julien declined to comment for this story, but in 2008 he said that the press would be faster and also provide greater color capacity and better consistency than the 1960s-era offset printer it was replacing.

The three-tower press is controlled by computers and uses water-based ink, rather than oil-based ink, when printing is done. All electronic files are first transferred onto photo-sensitive steel sheets known as plates, which are made using ultraviolet light that burns the page image onto the metal. The plates are then placed through a high-pressure air and water wash to remove the non-image area, leaving a raised image. Finally, these plates, after being heated to 200 degrees, are attached to the press.

For the past 12 years, the press has done a variety of contracted work in addition to the dailies.

Bill Foster, operations manager for the pressroom, pre-press and distribution for the past four years, has had the responsibility of overseeing all print jobs that roll off the press.

Foster said he set a schedule for printing based on the page counts of the various publications.

The workers then began their days by hanging the large rolls of paper and making sure ink levels and ink viscosity are correct, before attaching the plates and revving up the press.

On one recent morning, multiple small-town Connecticut newspapers were printed, each taking between 45 and 75 minutes to get off the press and to distribution. Around 5 p.m., the press team began the same process to make plates for the dailies.

Foster said the printing done in Auburn will be handled in a similar manner, with files sent electronically. But there a traditional offset press will be used.

“The press is different, but the process is similar,” Foster said.

The company estimates a net reduction in expenses of $393,000 as a result of outsourcing printing and distribution; in a “non-COVID” full year, the projected net savings would be as much as $568,000.

While it was bought with the idea of being a money-making enterprise, contracted work has dropped precipitously in the past five years, demonstrated by a nearly 60% reduction in ink purchased for contracted jobs between 2016 and 2020.

Aware of rising expenses, Foster said he has taken a series of steps to reduce costs, such as using the strategy of just-in-time inventory that limits the amount of product stored on site, better maintenance planning for the complicated machinery and more efficient job scheduling.

As for the future, Foster said he is aiming to find a buyer interested in purchasing the press or its components.

Saying goodbye

When the last in-house Gazettes are printed and the press is shut down for good, Foster said the occasion may be videotaped or photographed, and both Robertson and platemaker David Baranoski will be recognized as they prepare for retirement.

Baranoski, who has made the metal plates for a decade for the Gazette, has worked in printing since 1969.

While disappointed in the decision to close the press, Baranoski said he will be able to retire, at least initially, and use the money from the expected severance agreement.

In a control room next to the press, Tony Vacchelli, a full-time press operator in his sixth year at the Gazette, was recently doing quality control checks of the folded and stapled newspapers coming off the press.

Vacchelli said he would like to stay in the printing business and hopes he has skills that are transferrable to another job, even as press jobs become scarce.

Others who will be unemployed include Douglas Webber, who has been working part time in distribution alongside his wife, Norma Webber.

“Myself, I’d rather keep working,” Webber said.

As a member of the union, Webber said he is not angry at the Gazette but doesn’t feel like he has all the information from the company or the union about why the changes need to happen, or what he is eligible to receive. “To me, it’s more of a confusion,” Webber said.

“I think COVID played a large factor in this,” said Remington Steele, assistant manager for distribution. “With everything being closed, no one can advertise.”

Before the pandemic, bartending had been a fallback job for Steele, who had been preparing for the eventual closing of his department.

“I don’t think any of us expected it to be this soon,” Steele said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

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