Editorial: The soul of an old machine

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

Published: 7/26/2020 7:09:16 PM

“His father installed printing presses. He dismantles them.” That’s the headline of a 2019 article about a relic of the past — the newspaper printing press — that appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review. It comes to mind now, as the Gazette begins the process of outsourcing its production and distribution to commercial printer Gannett Co. in Auburn, Mass.

The Gazette is one of many small newspapers to go the route of printing at a central location as a result of declining advertising revenue and print circulation. And while we recognize the financial reasons for making this change, it’s important to pause and reflect on what it means.

Our newspaper has been printed in Northampton for 234 years, beginning in 1786 as a four-page broadsheet made by hand in a house on the corner of Pleasant and Main streets. It has been printed next to our newsroom for nearly half a century. Publishers, editors, reporters, photographers and paginators — we’ve all marveled at the newest press, a big blue machine, a 32-unit Cerutti S-4 flexographic, an Italian model that’s among the last of its kind remaining in the United States. 

When it arrived in 2008, the Cerutti model was the first of its kind in the U.S., and it was greeted with great fanfare: More than 500 residents turned out for an open house to enjoy refreshments and “meet the press” in its new home at 115 Conz St., following an expansion project to accommodate the new addition that cost the Gazette over $10 million. Since then, the press has become a community treasure, drawing visitors young and old from grade schools and colleges, businesses and retirement communities to watch the mesmerizing process of how a newspaper gets made, from plate to finished product. 

Of course, the machine is only part of it. With the shuttering of the Gazette’s print and distribution operations, we are also losing 29 employees in production and distribution: 20 part-time workers and nine full-time ones, some with tenures that span decades and manual skills that are hard to find in an increasingly digital world. 

The sudden announcement of these layoffs last month — in the midst of union negotiations and a global pandemic — was followed by a campaign and petition by the Pioneer Valley NewsGuild, the union that represents Gazette employees, to “#KeepTheGazetteAtHome,” which has led to a flood of outrage, packaged in form letters and emails, to company leaders.

We see the decision to outsource printing and distribution as a painful but financially necessary move as the Gazette struggles for its survival in a brutal industry — print journalism — during a pandemic that’s wreaking havoc on businesses of all kinds. 

The editors on this board have not been a part of negotiations between the company and affected unit members and can’t claim to know all the details of those discussions. We hope a fair agreement can be reached.

Most of all, we are saddened by the loss of this community treasure — and the people who’ve been printing and distributing our newspaper. While most of our editorial staff was working remotely during the first four months of the pandemic, our press and distribution men and women showed up for their shifts and made sure the newspaper reached you, our readers. It is an ugly truth of our industry that one day we can be “essential workers,” and the next day, we can be dispensable.  

We’ve been told the money saved from outsourcing printing and distribution will be injected into newsgathering.

That is our mission, and that’s what we will continue to do.

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061


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