As I wrote in my previous report from the Newspaper Association of America’s NEXPO Capital Conference, held April 12–16 in Washington, DC, the theme of this year’s show is relevance, both in terms of making print relevant to the changing demands of media consumers, and making the news in general relevant to an audience that is less and less interested in it.

Personalized Newspapers?

Even in print production sessions, the notion of relevance was...well, relevant. Enter inkjet printing.

It has been said that this summer’s DRUPA will be an “inkjet DRUPA,” and technologically, some press manufacturers are looking to inkjet as one of the salvations of the newspaper industry. A Sunday panel entitled, “New Technologies: Digital Printing,” sponsored by Océ, addressed (as it were) the application of inkjet and other digital printing technologies to bring the newspaper closer to the direct mail business. Moderated by Brian Ambor, vice president operations for the Rochester (NY) Democrat & Chronicle, the panel comprised MAN Roland’s Al Miller; Océ’s Duncan Newton; and Kodak’s Don Allred.

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Why inkjetting? Kodak’s Allred summed it up thematically: “How can [newspapers] be more relevant to consumers?” MAN Roland’s Miller set the stage by discussing how newspapers can incorporate many of the elements that have helped resuscitate the print direct mail business: namely, personalization, customization, and variable-data printing. The idea is to enable newspaper advertisers to test different ad variations, add maps to local retail outlets or car dealerships, and other things that help newspapers with “microzoning,” a catchword for customized and personalized newspapers that has (the magic word) relevance for subscribers. One idea, targeted toward Sudoku players, would be to have different Sudoku grids in different copies of the same newspaper—theoretically encouraging hardcore Sudoku addicts to buy multiple copies. (As an ardent crossword puzzle addict, I find the idea is not without some merit...) To that end, Kodak has partnered with MAN Roland to incorporate Kodak’s Continuous Inkjet (CIJ) system on MAN’s newspaper presses.

Much of what inkjet printing accomplishes is more correctly termed “imprinting.” But what about the actual inkjet printing of entire newspapers? It is by no means out of the realm of possibility. Océ’s Newton passed around a copy of USA Today that the company had printed on newsprint on its inkjet printer—and to this reporter’s eyes, was virtually indistinguishable from an offset printed paper. The challenges are speed, as well as computing power—a newspaper-sized press needs a lot of nozzles each of which needs to be individually addressed, multiplied by four if you want CMYK. At the same time, the high absorbency of newsprint makes it difficult to print inkjet inks, especially solids (as anyone who has ever used an inkjet printer with plain paper can tell you). Many of these issues are closer to being, if they have not already been, largely resolved

Allred says the goal is “Offset quality inkjet printing” of newspapers.

And all the speakers were quick to add that inkjet inks, being water-based, are environmentally friendly.

On the Show Floor

Agfa took this opportunity to debut (in North America) :Arkitex 6.0 (the colon is part of the logo, not a typo), the latest version of its workflow system for newspapers. Features of the new version include automatic PDF page checking, improved communication with page notes, and enhanced publication planning for complex tasks related to imposition and multiple editions.

Agfa is also debuting new members of the :Arkitex family: :Arkitex Vantage which, as its name indicates, provides a “vantage point” to monitor single or multiple :Arkitex workflow systems; and :Arkitex Analyst, an enterprise-wide tracking and report server to provide real-time information and postpress reports that encompass an entire newspaper production cycle.

Agfa is also unveiling in North America their latest digital plates, the :N92-V violet plates as well as the :N92-VCF chemistry-free violet plates.

Agfa is also taking this opportunity to congratulate the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on the purchase of three :Advantage platesetters and a complete :Arkitex workflow system.

Likewise, as my Tuesday preview article detailed, Fujifilm was on the show floor, demonstrating its Brillia High Definition (HD) chemistry-free violet CTP plate; the Krause LS Jet high performance platesetter; its C-fit image and color optimization tool designed specifically for newspaper production; andTaskero Universe, a suite of performance analysis tools designed to give publishers quality control from prepress all the way through to the pressroom.

ECRM Imaging Systems was on hand showcasing its violet CTP solutions MAKO NEWSmatic HS and MAKO NEWS, as well as demonstrating its WorkMates NEWS digital workflow.

Content management is big at NEXPO, with many vendors displaying their tools for streamlining the delivery of editorial and advertising content and distributing it to a variety of media channels.

Interestingly, Avid is exhibiting at the show—probably the only exhibitor at NEXPO to have won an Academy Award (1998’s Scientific and Technical Award for the concept, design, and engineering of the Avid Film Composer system for motion picture editing). Avid made its name in the film and television production arena with hardware and software tools for digital video editing, and they are at NEXPO offering solutions for news organizations looking to develop multimedia and rich media applications.

Every Picture Tells a Story

By accident, I came across one exhibit that was the most emotionally stirring at the show (not that platesetters and software aren’t without their appeals to the soul): the Pictures of the Year International (POYi) photojournalism award winners. POYi, in its 65th year, is a program of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism. Entries were judged in a variety of  categories, from newspaper news, newspaper features, sports photography, science and nature photography, and many more. The gallery at NEXPO featured a handful of the winners, which ranged from the heartbreaking, to the funny, to the poignant, to the delightful. The old cliché says that a picture is worth a thousand words, and each of these photographs were equivalent to the most poetic thousand words in the English language. A good photograph can provide a window into the soul of its subject, and one doesn’t come out of an exhibit like POYi’s without being changed in some way. This is what graphic communication is all about. I highly recommend visiting the winners gallery online at

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

As I was sitting in the press office at NEXPO typing this, I was handed a press release from the Newspaper Association of America that presented the results of consumer research commissioned by Google that found that consumers who respond to newspaper advertising use the Internet to conduct further research, and of those who have responded to a print ad and then conducted further online research, 70% make a purchase. Of course, these are only the people who responded to a newspaper ad—not consumers in general. But still, the conclusions of the research, which confirm the results of other research that has been conducted over the years, that print newspapers and online information sources provide a valuable one-two punch for consumers.

The Takeaway

What’s to be taken away from this year’s NEXPO? It’s a media media media media world; newspaper publishers are wrestling with wrangling eyeballs and dollars to a variety of their media offerings, with the emphasis being on providing content however the consumer wishes to receive it—and, perhaps, however the consumer wishes to pay for it (if at all).  Still, print remains an essential component, even if online platforms get more ink (or pixels) these days.

Opportunities and challenges for the print supply chain include reducing the costs associated with printing, which includes smaller web widths (a hot trend, though hardly new), streamlined post-press operations, and digital printing technologies that can bring all the benefits of personalization, customization, and variable-data printing to newspaper production. It may seem like print is playing defense in today’s newspaper publishing world, but as any sports fan can tell you, very often it’s the defense that wins the game.