This was first published in the author’s weekly column on Colorado media and is republished with his permission.
The publisher of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel said the family-owned newspaper serving the largest city between Denver and Salt Lake City will no longer print its newspaper in house.
The move fits with a broader trend of consolidation as dinosaur printing presses like the Sentinel’s start to age out across the country. Mechanical parts for these massive machines, built at least as far back as the 1980s, can be hard to find — and sometimes so, too, can the people who know how to fix them if and when they break.
The three-story Goss Headliner printing press in Grand Junction is a beast, capable of firing off 40,000 copies of a 96-page newspaper in an hour. Cox Newspapers installed the machine about 40 years ago when some believed the city was on the cusp of becoming the next big shale-oil boomtown.
Now, part of the problem is the Daily Sentinel just doesn’t need such printing capacity. “It’s like driving a semi truck for your daily commute when what you really need is a commuter car,” publisher Jay Seaton said in an interview.
So now The Montrose Daily Press will print the Sentinel, and workers there will drive copies 70 miles north five nights a week.
An interesting aside: In Colorado, geography can play a role in considering who to contract with for printing newspapers. You don’t want to print your paper in an area across a peak, canyon, or pass, for instance, when roads might close for days because of the weather.
From Seaton in a Wednesday memo to staff:
This will affect the jobs of many of our most dedicated and long-serving employees. These are our loyal co-workers, who come in late in the evening, prepare the press, prepare the next day’s plates, hang the paper rolls on the press, perform their magic to produce a beautiful product, fix problems as they arise, take down the press, insert the papers, bundle and label them, get them out the door, clean up and get ready for another day’s production. It’s frankly heartbreaking to make this announcement knowing how it will affect our people, but the newspaper industry has shifted beneath our feet. It’s a “print or be printed” world now, and this change will make us more efficient and give us a sustainable future.
The printing consolidation in Colorado is another example of the disruption of the local newspaper business model.
“It used to be that having the printing press was your key to having a monopoly in your community,” Seaton says. “Obviously the internet has changed that and the printing press is just one more vehicle for dissemination of your information, but it’s no longer your monopoly.”
In Grand Junction, the printing press installed during the Regan era had become inefficient and uncompetitive. Newspaper companies with more modern presses like a Wick Communications-owned one in Montrose or a Swift Communications-owned press in Gypsum started siphoning away the Sentinel’s commercial work.
That’s what Seaton means when he says it’s a “print or be printed world” for local papers.
The publisher told his staff on Wednesday that production employees will receive financial assistance after the first week of July, and the paper is committed to helping find “commensurate alternative employment” for those impacted. The Sentinel, he said in his memo, has no plans to further reduce print days. (Like other newspapers in Colorado and beyond, the paper has cut its print run on certain days of the week.)
“The heartbreaking part is that we’ve got highly qualified pressmen here who have been loyal to this company for, in one case, 41 years,” Seaton says. “For those guys to have to be looking at separation — involuntary separation — is tough. This industry has got a lot of challenges, but when those guys are on the receiving end of it it’s really a bummer.”
Dennis Anderson, publisher of The Montrose Daily Press and The Delta County Independent, says he is inviting some of the Sentinel’s pressmen to work in Montrose.
As for what happens with the hulking piece of machinery that has a scrap value of about $40,000 (or about as much as it might cost to remove it), the printing press will likely be sticking around as an artifact of local journalism history in Grand Junction.
Says Seaton: “I think it will essentially become a museum.”