Reading Eagle spreads wings
By Chuck Moozakis
The Reading (Pa.) Eagle last month went on-edition with its new Koenig & Bauer AG Colora Berliner press, becoming the second North American paper to embrace the format.
The family-owned newspaper (daily, 58,532; Sunday, 78,567) in 2007 ordered the Colora as part of a $33 million project that added a new press hall to its downtown facility.
“When we made this commitment, we viewed it as an opportunity to take a hard look at our entire business model,” Associate Publisher Larry Orkus told Newspapers & Technology. “We’ve recommitted to our franchise, which is Berks County news and information, and we did a lot of listening to our readers, advertisers and commercial customers.”
The doublewide press is configured as four eight-couple towers, totaling 32 printing couples. It’s equipped with a double KF3 folder (2:3:3/2:3:3) with variable web width capability, and sports five formers for newspaper and semi-commercial production.
Saying adieu to flexo
The press is replacing a 38-year-old Goss International Corp. press, which the Eagle converted from letterpress to flexo in the mid-1990s. The paper also operates a singlewide flexo press to handle some commercial work, which will continue in operation for the time being, Orkus said.
EAE provided the control software, which allows press operators to produce a variety of products, simultaneously.
The Eagle built a 77,000-square-foot addition — designed by Reading-based Muhlenberg Greene Architects — to house the press, distribution and packaging operations. The expanded building will allow the Eagle to sell its existing packaging facility, currently located a few blocks away from the main plant.
In switching to the new press, the Eagle is converting from a broadsheet measuring 22.75 inches high and 12.5 inches wide to a fully-sectioned Berliner broadsheet 18.5 inches high and 11.5 inches wide.
The Colora will enable the Eagle to produce as many as 48 color pages in the daily paper, substantially boosting the color capacity it possessed with its legacy press. It will also let the newspaper produce five sections each day and ensure that popular features will be anchored in the same section consistently.
In promoting the new format and press, Orkus said the Eagle consciously avoided describing its new size as Berliner.
“That’s just confusing to our readers,” he said, describing the term as “industry jargon.” Instead, the Eagle marketed the format as being “more convenient and more compact,” Orkus said.
The Eagle’s new format differs a bit from that of the Journal & Courier in Lafayette, Ind., which converted to Berliner in 2006. The Journal & Courier, like other broadsheets, is folded at its midpoint. The Eagle, by contrast, sports an off-center fold, with a lap of approximately 8.5 inches.
The asymmetrical fold will enable the Eagle to use existing newsracks without modifying them. And it will also allow postpress operators to insert circulars without worrying about the finished edition’s appearance, Orkus said.
“The conversion is almost a non-issue,” he said, citing focus group meetings the paper has conducted with readers and advertisers. “We didn’t get a single negative. We informed people that we are not going to give you less, but we will give you more. The paper has been completely redesigned, and color-coded into five sections.”
To further lay the groundwork for the conversion, Orkus said Eagle editors met with their counterparts at the Journal & Courier to get their input.
“We knew this would change every single department and affect how we write and edit, how we layout and design and how we sell.” The Eagle’s independent and family-owned culture also seasoned expectations. “We viewed this as a chance to go back to our readers and advertisers to get input from them” regarding the change. “It’s what you need to do. We encountered vociferous reactions from our readers, who continually described the Eagle as ‘my paper.’ We respected that loyalty.”
The change should fuel an uptick in commercial work, Orkus said. The company already produces a wide variety of commercial products for clients ranging from local retailers to the minor league baseball team.
Now the Eagle is ready to court new customers, including nearby newspapers.
“It’s important to acknowledge that whatever economic assumptions were made three or four years ago” when the press decision was originally made “are now in a state of flux,” Orkus said. “And since this decision was made, the concept of outsourcing has gotten traction and we have been contacted by other papers” interested in adopting the Eagle’s format as their own.
“We won’t know until the phone rings. And we will spend as much as it takes to help newspapers evolve with the new design. We have done a lot of homework. That’s a positive value to others, and someone with vision will take advantage of it.”
In addition to the press, the Eagle upgraded its prepress, adopting a computer-to-plate system engineered by Southern Lithoplate’s CTP Alliance. The digital foundation incorporates two Screen (USA) PlateRite 2000LE thermal platesetters, SLP’s Viper 630 thermal plates and ProImage’s NewsWay workflow software.
The lines feed into a punch bending and plate management system from Burgess Industries Inc.
Goss International Corp., meantime, supplied NP200 gripper conveyor, some new conveyor belts and modified the Eagle’s existing 30-hopper 632 inserter to accommodate the paper’s new format. It will also oversee moving the inserter from the Eagle’s existing packaging center to the expanded site as soon as possible, Orkus said.
Until the inserter is moved, the Eagle will use The Patriot in Harrisburg, Pa., to provide Sunday inserting, he said.
The switch in format and the new design should yield the Eagle newsprint and consumables savings in excess of 15 percent, but Orkus said economics played only a part of the paper’s motivation to upgrade its infrastructure.
“In our opinion, what the rest of the industry is doing” in mulling new formats and taking steps to reduce expenses “is not our concern,” Orkus said. “It’s our commitment to readers, advertisers and commercial customers. That’s what drove most of our decision-making.
“We did not acquiesce to the common self-deprecating self-analysis of newspapers in general.”
Bruce Richardson, eastern sales manager of KBA North America’s web division, said the Eagle’s conversion to offset printing and Berliner format will benefit the community.
“It’s been a great newspaper to work with,” he said. “We’re excited about the project and the format.”
The Eagle used ink supplier US Ink’s UseIT coldset press simulation program as part of its press operator training efforts. The program is priced on a per-user, per-hour basis.
It also tapped The Busby Group to provide process analysis consulting help throughout the project.