An Orderly Life

Amidst the typical chaos of an election season and the frightening chaos of current financial markets, did you notice it? An unexpected bit of order was inserted into your life recently, but it may have seemed so small or so unlikely that you missed it. Your not noticing it doesn’t make it insignificant, and its simplicity doesn’t mean it didn’t take months of work to accomplish.

Your newspaper is now arriving with its sections arranged in the proper order. As you thumb through the sections each morning, you can sing the alphabet song. The comics no longer play hide-and-seek before you’ve had your morning coffee. At least one thing in your life is more predictable now than it was a month ago. For this you can thank David Pero, Janet Owen, and the Olympic Trials.

As this newspaper geared up for the summer Olympic Trials, it became clear that the daily reporting would require larger sections with more color photography than readers and the production team had come to expect.

Producing a larger and more colorful newspaper takes more time. Readers don’t care what time the work begins, so long as it hits their doorsteps before dawn. During the Trials, some of the best local sports stories could not be written until after dark. That left not much time in between. The logical solution was to work ahead, to produce the newspaper in two halves, inserting the preprinted features and classifieds sections into the more timely sports and news sections.

This process is slightly more expensive for the newspaper because extra printing plates must be used, but more sections add new revenue opportunities — color ads can be sold in places not available in the old configuration. The decision was made to spend money to make money. There aren’t many newspapers thinking that way these days.

David Pero, the chief operating officer for The Register Guard, has had this improvement on his agenda almost since he arrived over a year ago. “I knew we needed to anchor our sections better,” Pero told me. “Readers have been telling us this for years. ‘Can’t find the comics’ has always been a common complaint. We decided to make the Olympic Trials our opportunity to test a new way of putting together the paper.”

You know how sometimes you solve one problem, but it only creates a new one? Imagine if your problem involves a staff of hundreds, more than 100,000 readers, and machinery worth more than a million dollars. Welcome to David Pero’s world.

The new press configuration revealed a need for a small part inside that million-dollar printing press. A mechanical gripper system would cost $5,800, but was back-ordered for several months.

Pero had hired a new Production Director in the spring with an eye to this improvement, but he wanted “to hear from a professional printer that my thinking was right,” as he put it. Janet Owen is that new Production Director and she agreed. The gripper system was ordered. It was installed earlier this month.

The gripper allows inserts to be placed in the middle of the newspaper, instead of behind the first section. So now, sections D, E and F can come after sections A, B and C. Voila! Instant order.

Nothing can ever make everyone happy in this town. A reader complained that his newspaper is no longer folded so neatly in half. Owen smiles as she admits, “He was very astute.  Everyone should know that for us to put the paper in order, we need about a 1/2 inch ‘lap’ difference between the front and back halves of the paper. This is what the gripper takes hold of when it is pulling the paper open. If the paper was folded in the center as it has been for years, the gripper would have nothing to grab and all the inserts and second part of the paper would just fall out.”

On the other hand, a letter to Owen thanked her for repairing what this reader called “the fabric of life.” That might be overstating it a bit, but we’ll take order wherever we can get it, right?

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) has held various jobs with newspapers in Connecticut, California, and Oregon. These include (in alphabetical order): advertising manager, circulation director, copy editor, editorial writer, management consultant, owner, publisher and syndicated columnist. He blogs.