WA - Glitch Creates Publishing Mess, Unforseen Computer Problem

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Sunday, May 14, 2000 Title: Technical Glitch Creates Publishing Mess

Source: Herald Net, WA

SUZANNE AMES Your Newspaper Your newspaper hasn't looked quite right the past few days. We apologize for that. Herald employees have been working around the clock to try to fix myriad press problems. Hopefully the worst is over.

We realize how much people depend on picking up their newspaper from their doorstep with all the features in their appropriate places. Thursday's paper was on many doorsteps on time, but missing important pieces such as the Time Out pages, stocks and the Opinion page. The decision to print the paper without these components wasn't made lightly.

Overnight, a bearing cage in one of the press towers failed. The bearing cage allows us to feed paper from 1-ton rolls onto the press. This happens to be the particular press tower that allows us to run our maximum number of color pages. That bearing cage had never given us trouble before, so it took awhile to find the source of the problem. A machinist from the Seattle Times even spent two days here to give our crew a hand diagnosing the problem and working through a solution.

With that tower out of commission, the best solution was to use the remaining two towers, one printing color, and one printing only black and white. That meant dropping the paper from 40 to 32 pages, so we could still get it out to subscribers in a timely manner. The only other option was printing The Herald incredibly late after the problem was fixed. No one knew how long that would be.

Over the past few years, publishing The Herald on time has gained greater importance for us. Our carriers need to deliver the paper early so they can get on with the rest of their day -- oftentimes to a second job. Our subscribers need to read about events in Snohomish County and the rest of the world before they run out the door to get to work. Our advertisers need to get their messages to their customers while they're still fresh. And the list goes on.

The decision to print The Herald with a few fewer pages was made with all these factors in mind. Plus, the pages that were left out could be added to future editions. That's why Friday's paper had a special six-page section including two days' worth of comics, crosswords and Dear Abby.

That brings us to Friday.

Unfortunately, it wasn't much easier publishing Friday's paper. We were still hobbling, but thought it would have gone better than it did. A functional bearing cage was moved from the press tower that only prints black and white, and put in the tower that gives us full color capability. The plan was to print a smaller, but full-color newspaper until all the new parts could be installed the next day.

As technology would have it, the mechanical problem from Wednesday night caused an unforeseen computer software problem that didn't allow us to keep a stiff ream of paper running through the press. The paper would break every time the press sped up. Given this new development, the option to just print a smaller paper wasn't realistic. We would have had to cut The Herald down to 16 pages. It wouldn't even resemble its typical self, and wouldn't give customers the information they need.

To boot, the spray bar, which sprays printing solution onto the page, wasn't working. Three new spray bars were installed before the call was made to go ahead and sacrifice quality for getting the paper out. That's always a painful decision. Fortunately, we don't have to make it very often. The press crew prides itself on spectacular quality. They went so far as to have an employee stand at the top of the press and squirt on the solution by hand. Of course, with the high speed of the press, it was hit and miss.

The combination of all those problems resulted in The Herald being published three hours late. Three hours late might as well be a whole day late in the newspaper business. By then, many carriers need to go to their day jobs. And readers are leaving for work without their Herald.

Friday was a very nontraditional day for many Herald employees who pitched in to help. Some answered phones to explain the situation to readers who called in. Our systems project manager stepped away from her computer to talk to readers. She reminisced about how she got her start in the circulation department years ago. Others, including our typist, our credit manager and myself, hopped in cars and started delivering papers to customers. Even some carriers who do this for a living delivered two or three extra routes Friday.

To give you an idea, a route can take anywhere from 30 minutes to five hours. One carrier who finished his regular five-hour route offered to do another one. Most subscribers received their paper by the afternoon. Everyone appreciates the importance of getting the paper in the customers' hands.

"The worst part is knowing you have customers sitting out there waiting," said Herald circulation director Sandra Hollenbeck.

Managers at The Herald will sit down early this week to fully examine all the problems, figure out what went wrong and decide how to prevent it next time. It's all done with the recognition that this is your newspaper and we want to get it right.



-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), May 14, 2000

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