Press woes

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 23, 2003

Not surprisingly, freedom of the press is something we hold dearly at the News-Herald.

Central to the concept, of course, is ownership, or access to, a press. But that in and of itself does not necessarily guarantee freedom, as we have come to learn over the past week.

The Suffolk News-Herald is printed each night – for a modest fee – by our sister paper, the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald in Ahoskie, N.C. They have a press. We do not.

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We used to have a press, I’m told, but when Media General bought us and the Ahoskie paper, company officials astutely figured that it made little economic sense to maintain and operate two web printing presses just 40 miles apart.

A press is a particularly insidious piece of machinery. First of all, it costs a fortune. Parts are expensive and constantly need to be replaced. It’s temperamental and has to be maintained like a space shuttle. The ability to operate a press is highly specialized skill – pressmen are hard to find.

Some of our old-timers here still curse the day when the Suffolk press was removed. Me, I thank the Creator practically every day that a press is not among the things with which I have to contend on a daily basis.

Since assuming ownership of the papers three years ago, our company has invested heavily in our press to improve the quality of our products. Reproduction on the paper you hold today is vastly superior to what it was three years ago. Still, no matter how well-maintained your press is or how much tender loving care you give, it will not print the paper by itself. It takes people to operate it, and it’s a highly specialized skill, one that is becoming increasingly difficult to find.

We have a good pressman in Ahoskie named Calvin. About a week ago, however, Calvin was injured while unloading some rolls of paper. Since then, it’s been a struggle for us to get our paper out in a timely manner.

Other newspapers have bent over backwards to help us, sending their own pressmen over to help us out. But every press has its own idiosyncrasies and for someone – even someone talented – to walk in off the street and attempt to operate one, it’s a pretty tall order.

As such on several days over the past week, the Suffolk News-Herald has been late getting off the press as various pressmen have struggled with color registration, black ink density and other aspects of press work. This has made the papers late getting back to Suffolk, late getting to our carrier force and, ultimately, late getting in the hands of our readers. Of course, this is not an attempt to excuse our tardiness, there is no excuse for us not getting our paper to our customers on time. Only to note that if your paper has not been on your porch or in your tube lately when you’ve come to expect it, it is not the fault of your carrier. It is my fault.

October is celebrated in our industry as Carrier Appreciation Month, and for having to wait around for their papers as they have the past week and having to deal with justifiably angry customers, I appreciate them this month even more than usual.

As I write this, though, a highly skilled pressman is in flight to Ahoskie from Minnesota and hopefully we will be back soon to a consistent delivery time. In the meantime, we apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate your patience, as well as that of our carriers.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald. He can be reached at 934-9611, or via e-mail at