It may be packaged differently, but it’ll be on time |

It may be packaged differently, but it’ll be on time

When newspaper people have nightmares, their bad dreams look strikingly like the situation at The Union the last two Saturday mornings.

On both Saturdays, we missed our production deadline by more than four hours – that’s about as bad as it can get – and our customers got their papers late.

Here’s what happened, and here’s what you can expect:

Each day’s edition of The Union is composed of several parts that were printed separately. The edition you got today includes two sections – the C and D sections – that were printed at 10 p.m. last night. The A and B sections usually go to press at 1 a.m. Some of the advertising inserts were printed at The Union over the last few days; other inserts were published elsewhere and trucked here.

The last step in our production involves assembling all those sections into your daily newspaper. We complete the job by 3:30 a.m. so our carriers can have time to complete their deliveries by 6 a.m.

The job of assembling the newspaper is largely automated. As the number of sections in the newspaper has grown, our insertion equipment has strained to meet the demands placed on it.

At the start of January, we installed new equipment – several hundred thousands dollars worth of new equipment – that will help us deal with the growing number of sections.

And our struggles began.

We use the new equipment to gather the sections into packages, then insert those packages into the paper. The learning curve has been steep. The new machines sometimes are finicky about the way they want to be treated. Our education in the new system has been done on the fly with our ever-tight deadlines looming. And, naturally enough, we had some mechanical breakdowns to add to our frustration.

Our Saturday paper includes the greatest number of inserts of any edition during the week. (Wednesday, with its grocery store ads, is second.) For two Saturdays in a row, despite the best efforts of our packaging department crew and a team of managers and employees who’ve come down in the middle of the night to help out, we missed our deadlines.

We refuse to allow this to continue.

Already, we’ve temporarily moved our news and press deadlines forward by an hour to give our packaging department more time to do its job.

Beginning Saturday, your copy of The Union may be assembled differently than it has been in the past. Some of the special sections (such as the color comics) and the advertising sections may be separate from the front sections of the paper. Your paper may be bagged even though the weather is dry. We’re doing this for a few Saturdays to save the time required in the final assembly of the sections. All your newspaper still will be there; it will just be in two sections.

During the next couple of weeks, we’ll be getting more advanced training with the new equipment and gaining experience with each edition. Within a month, we expect these problems will be behind us.

We appreciate your patience in recent days – particularly the last two Saturdays. If we have our way, this is the last you’ll hear about this.

John Seelmeyer is editor of The Union.

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