New York non-daily and South Carolina daily not so different after all

Talk about different situations. Last week, I spent two days in the city that never sleeps, visiting with a staff that produces large weeklies, shoppers and more. This week, I’m in a southern town, working with the staff of a small daily paper for two days.

You’d think the situations couldn’t be more different. In New York, the pace was incredibly hectic. Staff moved at a frantic pace, working to get the next assignment done. No time to visit. No time to waste. People yelled. Supervisors barked orders. It was the classic big city situation.

My first task upon arriving here was to sit around a conference table with an editor, ad director and two other managers and discuss what was happening at their paper and what we hoped to accomplish while I’m here. No hurry. No fuss. Just a relaxing conversation, with my Diet Mountain Dew in hand, that provided most of the information I needed to understand my assignment. You would think the situations couldn’t be more different. In fact, these two newspapers hold much in common.

While a little more than half of my time at both offices was spent training staff in software applications, the other half was spent analyzing the workflows and making recommendations concerning things that could be improved.

The paper in New York was moving to the InCopy/InDesign workflow system. That required training in both applications. We also dealt with problem PDF files (yes, they were all created the wrong way) and held a session on creating animated Flash files for the paper’s website.

Here at the daily paper, we’ve focused our training on advanced InDesign, photo editing and correcting problem PDF files. It’s almost funny that so many of the PDF files we create and receive from others still cause so many printing problems.

What I learned, however, was that these two papers hold more than PDF issues in common. Both papers have something in the workflow that is slowing their production efforts to a snail’s pace at times.

In New York, it was the Internet. Outfitted with new computers and software, the staff worked diligently to get out their products. The building had even been equipped with new network wiring recently. The problem wasn’t in the equipment or the wires. It was with the Internet speed itself.

I visited with key managers and explained that the workflow was being hampered significantly by the slow Internet. While I was there, phone calls were already being made to find a new provider who could provide faster service

I’m amazed at the number of newspapers I visit who are still working with DSL. Sure, it’s still the only thing available in some places, but in most areas much faster options are available. In Knoxville, where I live, cable Internet can be over 100 times as fast as DSL. That’s a difference that makes an impact on the bottom line.

Cable Internet, when available, can also be more than 50 times as fast as a T1 line. If you’ve noticed that you have to wait on the Internet, it might be a good time to see if you have a faster option available. And, fortunately, cable Internet is usually less expensive than T1.

The group in New York was also looking into a vendor who could provide quality newspaper management software at an affordable price. I find it interesting that most papers I’ve visited in the past two years have been in search of new management software. There are many options at various price points. This is another area that can increase efficiency greatly.

This week, at the small daily paper, I’m noticing a common thread. Speed is also hindering production efforts.

It’s not slow Internet that’s causing delays and disruptions. It’s old computers and software.

Nothing pains me more than to see a staff working to produce quality publications, on strict deadlines, with slow equipment. As I go from workstation to workstation and watch the staff, I can’t help but think that efficiency could easily increase by a third or more with new hardware and software.

Publishers sometimes balk at the idea of having to spend tens of thousands of dollars on new computers and software. I balk at the idea of staff sitting around, through new fault of their own, waiting for the spinner to stop spinning in InDesign or for a file to open in Photoshop.

The truth is that many newspapers could almost double their efficiency with new equipment. That’s hard to disregard.

I love newspapers like these. Both are working hard to create quality publications for their communities. And both are reaching out for help in understanding what they can do increase both quality and efficiency.

The newspapers in New York and the newspaper here in the South have bright futures. Ad revenue is coming in at a healthy pace. Great staffs are in place and efficiency is improving. Those are winning combinations.

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