Thursday, April 12, 2012

M-I adding jobs in new design hubs

By Joy Campbell Messenger-Inquirer Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer

The Messenger-Inquirer has added 33 jobs in a little more than a year by establishing graphics and pagination hubs at its Frederica Street plant to serve numerous daily and weekly newspapers within its parent company, Paxton Media Group.

The daily newspaper's copy desk added 25 people who are now designing and laying out 13 daily newspapers and 10 weeklies within the Paxton group. Those papers are in Kentucky, Indiana, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee.

A second pagination center is being developed at the Paducah Sun to serve additional Paxton papers.

The graphics hub in Owensboro has added eight new jobs and is designing and building ads for 32 daily and 15 weekly newspapers within the corporation. The other half of that center is in St. Joseph, Mich., at the Herald-Paladium newspaper, which has added seven designers, bringing the total new jobs at both hubs to 40.

Messenger-Inquirer Publisher Bob Morris said the work in Owensboro is gaining attention throughout the publishing business.

"At least a half-dozen newspapers have been on site to see what we're doing, and another half-dozen have called about it," Morris said.

The new business centers are "a tremendous investment and opportunity for Owensboro," said Nick Brake, president and CEO of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp.

"I know that this was a competitive decision, and the organization weighed several options it had," Brake said. "We're extremely proud we're going to be the base for all of this activity. These are talent-based businesses, and a lot of creative, smart people are lining up for these jobs"

New technology is driving change in the industry, which would have occurred somewhere within the Paxton corporation, Morris said.

"At the end of the day, it shows the corporation has confidence in us -- in the tenacity of the individuals leading the development of these centers," Morris said. "It has been a lot of hard work. And if it had not been for these talented individuals, these jobs would be in some other place.

The Paducah-based newspaper chain's publications are concentrated in an area from the Gulf to Lake Michigan near the Canadian border and on the East Coast.

"Being able to use technology and create opportunity here has been very rewarding," Morris said.

The newspaper industry has had its critics who say the print medium has failed to adapt to changes in communication technology, said Matt Francis, the Messenger-Inquirer's executive editor who helped lead the creation of the pagination hub.

"The long-held business model of having numerous newspapers performing the same tasks each day and each week is difficult to support with changes we've seen on the revenue side," Francis said. "We needed to find a way to reduce duplication and maximize our ability to generate content. I do think we're out in front on this, and I think you'll be seeing more and more of this new model."

The planning for the new business centers actually started shortly after Morris came to Owensboro seven years ago.

"Our local Owensboro managers saw an opportunity to take technology and leverage it to create opportunities for our existing staff and add positions in Owensboro," Morris said.

The first opportunity came when the newspaper looked for a way to help one of the weekly newspapers in its corporate group, the Franklin Favorite.

"Weekly newspapers have smaller staffs, and when their employees take vacations or have to be out for other reasons, they struggle to get the work done week in and week out," said Mike Weafer, the operations manager at the Messenger-Inquirer. "We had the idea that we could help them with printing and graphics. The opportunities mushroomed from there."

The printing and ad development were moved to the Owensboro plant, and that had a stabilizing effect.

"That showed us that this model could be expanded," Weafer said. "It grew from one weekly to all of the Paxton Media papers."

Francis describes that initial step as "developing a system in which we could maximize resources in production and gain efficiencies on the copy desk to allow us to increase the number of folks on the ground at each paper reporting and producing copy."

For the reader, content is most important, and that makes it the newspaper's bread and butter, he said. "This model creates more resources for reporting without sacrificing the editing aspect of it."

The Owensboro plant began laying out the Madisonville Messenger about four years ago. Then the Vincennes (Ind.) Sun-Commercial was added in late 2008.

"When that worked, I believe it gave the folks in the corporate office confidence that we could do it on an even grander scale," Francis said.

Major keys to success have been the cooperation from both the vendors in creating software and from the staffs at the Paxton newspapers, Weafer said.

"And since we are very reliant on the Internet, we have created access from two different vendors so that if one goes down, we have automatic access from the other," he said. "I think we are one of a few companies in Owensboro, if not the only one, that is doing that."

The new business centers are working, and in some cases, they are creating improvements, he said.

"The folks we have hired are highly skilled and are providing a high level of service to smaller newspapers," Weafer said.

How does it work?

Francis notes that before the change, the newspaper's copy editors and page designers were one and the same requiring both word and design skills.

"We split those and now have copy editors who primarily make sure the copy is clean, select articles, help decide story placement and have journalism backgrounds," he said. "Paginators and designers are creative and visual and have computer skills, but they don't necessarily have journalism degrees. We're not just hiring J-school graduates."

Scott Hagerman, news editor and production hub manager in Owensboro, said the pagination and copy editing jobs are drawing interest from across the country. Many of the 25 new employees have come from the immediate area, but the staff also includes young people from outside the tristate, with hires coming from Arizona, Kansas and New York, among other areas.

Creating the new model has been a challenge, Hagerman said, "but the staff has embraced the change, and it keeps them interested," he said. The page-makers work mostly a 3 p.m. to midnight shift and keep a fast pace.

For the daily papers, Saturday's shift is the most challenging, with an average of 341 pages built for Sunday, Hagerman said. During the week, an average of 216 pages are laid out. For the combined weeklies, about 86 pages per week are created. And for the company's tri-weeklies, the hub makes up an average 48 pages per week.

Those page counts don't include classified pages.

Company-wide, fewer positions are needed in pagination because of the efficiencies the new staffing model has created, Hagerman and Francis said.

For example, at all 13 daily newspapers, at least one person was responsible for the AP wire stories for the front pages. What was taking 13 people to accomplish is now handled by four, because a story that once had to be pulled from the wire 13 different times by an editor at each individual paper, now only has to be pulled once, and then it's dispersed throughout the papers in the hub.

In another time-saver, downloading comics, which takes about an hour a day, was being done 13 times. Now, it's done one time, saving about 12 hours a day in production time at the papers in the hub.

"When this works seamlessly, our papers have their own reporters and editors and we serve as an extension of their newsrooms," Francis said. "It's not much different than if we were sitting in their offices in North Carolina, or Georgia or wherever. And that's how everyone here approaches it. We care about their products just the same as we do the Messenger-Inquirer."

The company uses a web-based editing system. After a reporter completes a story, it goes through multiple edits at the local level before being transported electronically to the Owensboro hub. The Owensboro staff takes the stories and photos, designs and puts together the pages, which are then sent back for any edits and a final sign-off.

"We send the final version of the paper electronically directly from Owensboro to their press room," Francis said. "At that point, it's like any other press run."

Graphics center building ads for all Paxton papers

Brandon Cox is the graphics center manager, and his 32 graphic artists in two locations build all of the advertisements for Paxton Media newspapers. Eighteen of the 32 jobs are in Owensboro.

"Our goal is to produce quality material in an efficient manner," Cox said. "We provide a service to our advertisers who bought ads, and we want the ads to be eye-catching and do the job for them."

The graphic artists routinely are working two to three days ahead. In a routine day, they will work on 800 to 900 ads or about 30 ads per employee.

Cox said he is trying to create a culture at both locations that includes setting the same expectations, taking pride in the work and having fun. He communicates routinely with advertising directors and account executives.

"It's a big operation," Cox said. "What I'm proud of is that a lot of newspapers are sending their design work overseas, but we're keeping ours in the U.S., and in Owensboro."

The graphics hub also integrates new media, creating ads for the Internet.

"We hear a lot about newspapers laying people off," Francis said. "But the reality is our company - and there are others as well - is adapting to the changing business model in a way that is cause for optimism. We have added a significant number of people into an integral part of the paper, and I think that bodes well for the future. It strengthens the position of this newspaper and ensures that it will continue to be the leading source for news in this community going forward."

Joy Campbell, 691-7299,