Starting Tuesday, the Times Union will look better. Every page will have color. Each photo and graphic design will be clearer. The type will be a half-point smaller, but sharper. The paper will also be shorter and slimmer, by one inch on each side and two inches in length.
But aside from making a nicer-looking product, the Times Union’s new multimillion dollar printing press will allow the Colonie-based newspaper to enter the world of commercial printing, and perhaps gain a new revenue stream.
“We are absolutely going to be pursuing commercial work,” said Times Union Publisher and CEO George Hearst III.
He can’t say yet for whom the newspaper might print, but he said the new press technology can print not just newspapers, but also specialty publications, weeklies, monthlies and periodicals. The press is a custom-made KBA Commander CL, a four-story-tall beast with automatic plate changes, computer-controlled motors, four-color process printing and the capability to produce 160,000 copies an hour.
It’s certainly an upgrade from the old press, which was commissioned in 1970 and prints about 50,000 copies an hour. “With a press this flexible and this fast, and with the reduced cost of operating, we will be able to have the lowest cost per page in the market,” Hearst said.
But the investment in new press technology comes at an odd time in the newspaper industry. Online news consumption has increased exponentially over the past decade while print readership has declined.
Hearst said the Times Union considered buying a new press in the fall of 1989, when then-publisher Joe Lyons looked into switching to flexography, a modern version of letterpress printing.
The new press uses offset printing technology, a technique that transfers ink from a plate to a rubber blanket and finally to the printing surface.
At its most basic, the new press will make the newspaper look better. But Times Union leaders are hoping the investment brings in new revenue by opening them up to commercial printing opportunities. And in the long run, they expect it to save money with faster, more efficient printing and reduced waste.
“One could argue what’s the business case on making this type of investment when print seems to be so challenged?” said Hearst. “There is no denying the mega trends. However, a print channel is still very, very important to support. It carries the bulk of our advertising revenues, the bulk of our readership and viewership.”
Editors are also in the process of tweaking editorial and advertising content. Editor and Vice President Rex Smith said there are plans for expanded technology and business coverage, as well as a new Saturday feature called “Shopportunists.”
“We’re also putting more voice into the paper,” said Smith. “We believe there’s an appetite for interpretive reporting and voice, so we’re going to trumpet Chris [Churchill] a little bit more, and add more columnists to add more personality to the paper.”
Churchill is the paper’s consumer affairs and government watchdog reporter.
He updates a blog called “The Advocate,” which aims to expose unfairness and help set things right for TU readers.