| Posted: Wednesday, Aug 15, 2012 06:00 am
St. Albert's Great West Newspapers announced a major deal this week that will bring the Edmonton Journal's print operations to Campbell Business Park next summer.
Great West Newspapers, the parent company of the St. Albert Gazette, inked the deal in the spring of 2011 after several years of discussion with the Edmonton daily.
The agreement meant Great West had to rethink its original plans for its newly constructed headquarters on Carleton Drive.
"We didn't start this project with the idea that we'd be printing the Edmonton Journal," said president and CEO Duff Jamison. "We started this project with the idea we'd be printing Great West's newspapers and our commercial customers."
The agreement caused a two- to three-month delay as the building footprint expanded and plans changed to accommodate a larger, more advanced printing press.
Construction began in May 2011, with the majority of the building completed over the following 13 months. Administrative operations began at the new headquarters in late June, although construction of the printing facility will be ongoing until next spring.
A massive concrete pad is being laid at the facility in preparation for the multi-million-dollar German press, which will be installed in the new year. Several months of testing will follow before production starts.
"The equipment is being manufactured right now," Jamison said. "The last piece of equipment to go in will be the press."
When the state-of-the-art press is up and running, it will push out pages two-and-a-half times faster than the company's current press on Chisholm Avenue. It also allows for full-colour printing on glossy paper.
The size of both the St. Albert Gazette and the Edmonton Journal will change to accommodate the highly technical press.
Beginning in May, Great West's family of newspapers will be printed at the new facility, with printing of the Journal to follow. No specific date has been released, pending testing at the facility.
Despite moving from a more mechanical press to a highly automated press, Jamison said no staff positions will be cut. In fact, a handful of technicians are currently being selected to join the press team.
It is a different story, however, at the Journal's current Eastgate plant where roughly 70 full-time staffers will lose their jobs.
"We have mixed feelings about the change," said Journal publisher John Connolly. "We are excited about the new possibilities for more colour and better reproduction. However, we are sorry to be losing many of our dedicated Journal staffers."
He said the employees will be given severance packages and access to career counselling.
Connolly said high costs were the driving force behind his decision to outsource printing, adding equipment at the Eastgate plant was in need of replacement, which would have been "prohibitively expensive."
Postmedia, the Journal's parent company, intends to switch focus from print to digital and electronic mediums, ultimately reducing expenses.
"There are fewer and fewer newspapers that have their dedicated production facilities. It's a print-or-be-printed world that we live in now," Jamison said.
While some newspapers are switching their focus to online platforms, he said he intends to stick with a primarily print format.
"What hasn't changed is my fundamental belief that print is still a very effective medium. We know that from the readership of the St. Albert Gazette, which is really high," he said.
The St. Albert Gazette accounts for just over 10 per cent of the company's printing, with all other Great West papers and commercial contracts making up the remaining 90 per cent.
The current press is running at maximum capacity, while the new press will still have capacity to take on new contracts once it is up and running.
When production ends on the current press, equipment will be sold, likely offshore, Jamison said.