Baton Rouge, Louisiana — The Baton Rouge Advocate is making the switch from letterpress to the efficiencies of a 4X1 digitally controlled web offset system, signing today to install an 8-page REGIOMAN by MAN Roland. The press will be the focal point of a $40 million, 120,000 sq ft production center that will be built later this year.
Douglas Manship Jr., Publisher and COO of The Advocate, believes the upgrade to REGIOMAN will get the attention of the communities the paper serves. “The improved reproduction will make the newspaper more vibrant and attractive for our readers,” he says. “The ink rub that is so annoying to our readers will be much less of a problem, and we think the new, smaller size will ultimately be a plus as well.”
The Advocate’s REGIOMAN will feature a 21” cutoff, a 50” web width and be able to deliver a 64-page newspaper. Accomplishing the mission will be 8 reel stands, feeding 48 printing couples, positioned in 7 printing units. Automatic roll loading capabilities and MAN Roland’s PECOM control and automation system will be part of the package.
Manship says the capabilities of the paper’s new printing system will benefit its advertisers in several ways: “First of all, going from letterpress to offset offers a great improvement in printing quality — both color and black-and-white. Second, improved reproduction should encourage greater readership, which gets an advertiser’s message to a larger audience. And third, the increased amount of color pages will help more advertisers use color, which can improve the look of their ads, and consequently their readership.”
Kirk Fisher, Director of Operations for The Advocate, says that the 4X1 formula is the perfect configuration for the paper, which has a daily circulation of 97,000 and a 123,000 Sunday run.
“It really fits our operational model,” he explains. “What we wanted to do was to achieve great color flexibility and not be bound by the limitations of a collect press. That’s the way the industry is going, and it’s the best fit at The Advocate as well.”
While 4X1 was a given, The Advocate’s technology team had a tougher choice when it came down to deciding which press manufacturer it would partner with. The search started in Düsseldorf during Drupa and culminated at NEXPO with the official signing for the REGIOMAN.
“We went through a very extensive due diligence process,” Fisher notes. “We were fortunate to move forward during a Drupa year because it enabled us to meet with all the major press manufacturers at one time and place. We spent five days in Düsseldorf making our preliminary handshakes with all the vendors. Then we went into the RFP (Request for Proposal) phase.”
The Advocate narrowed the choice down to four pressmakers, and it visited their newspapers at work throughout the world to see its top picks in production. When all the facts and figures were analyzed, MAN Roland led the field.
“We went around the world twice to get the information we needed to make our decision,” Fisher recalls. “The production managers and high level executives who made the purchase ahead of us were very pleased with MAN Roland’s structure and support stateside. And we became very comfortable with the technology when we saw it at work.”
The Advocate is a family-owned independent newspaper so it doesn’t benefit from the informational economics of scale many corporately owned publications enjoy when they’re buying new equipment.
“It was more difficult to make a decision because we couldn’t fall back on corporate experience. That’s why we made sure everything was right, each step of the way,” notes Fisher. “We knew we have to live with our decision for a long time, so we probably did more than the average share of research and evaluation.”
Color, of course, was a key consideration. The new press will double The Advocate’s color capacity from 20 to 40 pages. “For the savvy ad market here, color is essential,” Fisher says. “I’ve never met a production director who said we put too much color in the press. In fact, we increased our order from 42 couples to a 48 couple press so we could add more. That, combined with the higher reproduction quality offset printing delivers is going to be great for our readers, our advertisers and for us.”
The Advocate’s letterpress also limits the paper’s commercial printing capabilities. That will change for the better with the installation of the REGIOMAN, according to Fisher: “Margins are slim, but we’re going to entertain outside business. The biggest opportunity at the commercial end is putting out alternative niche products of our own.”
The Advocate shopped for a stitcher/trimmer at NEXPO that will equip it to produce automotive buyers guides, real estate showcases and business publications that will be packaged with the paper once the new press starts rolling. A new mailroom is also on the horizon, as is a move to a computer-to-plate (CTP) workflow.
“We’re making quantum leap in technology from prepress to distribution,” Fisher says. “It’s almost as if we got a group of folks together to start a brand-new newspaper. We’re updating every aspect of our workflow to increase our throughput.”
The new press will be a major contributor to that boost in production. The Advocate yields 16,000 copies per hour from its existing system. In contrast, REGIOMAN has a top speed of 75,000 copies per hour. Fisher figures that with makeready and ramp-up factored in, his new press will yield 64-65,000 copies per hour, quadrupling output.
“The increase in speed will enable us to produce new editions for our readers, as well as new products that will benefit both our readers and our advertisers,” notes Manship.
The newspaper currently produces an Acadiana edition covering Lafayette and the surrounding Cajun country with community-focused news and advertising. And on March 3, it launched a special weekly edition of the paper aimed at another region — Ascension Parish. Ultimately four regional editions will be produced on the new press.
To expedite the expansion, The Advocate is building new distribution centers and is redefining routes and route sizes. “All of those factors need to be taken into consideration as we transition from our current production chain to our new workflow,” Fisher explains.
To help the paper’s press operators transition from letterpress technology to a state-of the-industry production stream, MAN Roland is scheduled to provide a beefed-up training regiment. “It’s important to bring press crews used to rubber stamp technology into the world of offset,” Fisher says. “We’re going from a mechanical world to a highly computerized one.”
In keeping with its family-owned heritage, The Advocate takes its role in the community very seriously. “I believe that investing in a better newspaper benefits that newspaper's community,” Manship declares.
So it’s not surprising that The Advocate plans to involve Baton Rouge residents in the commissioning of its new facility, which is scheduled to go into production in September 2006.
“We’re going to make it a special event for the community,” Fisher declares. “The people of Baton Rogue really take ownership of The Advocate, and we take a lot of pride in that. We’re always looking for ways to give something back. In this case, we’ll be giving them a higher quality newspaper.”
Vincent Lapinski, COO of Web Operations for MAN Roland Inc., also expressed his company’s pride in the project: “This means more to us than providing a new press to The Advocate. We’ll be working closely with our new friends for the better part of two years, providing training, technical support, and project management to make sure all of the pieces come together on time. We look forward to playing a part in the growth of one of America’s great family-run newspapers.”
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