Serving as both executive editor and publisher of The Herald-Mail has been an extreme honor and privilege, full of gratifying, exciting moments.
But running a company also has its bad days, and Thursday, Feb. 11, will go down as the worst.
That evening, I told more than 10 full-time employees and more than two dozen part-time employees that sometime during the next two months, they no longer would have jobs here because we are shifting our newspaper printing and packaging operations to The Frederick News-Post.
Many of these folks are among the most hard-working, dependable employees I've had the privilege to work with in my 30-plus years here. The decision had nothing to do with the way they did their jobs and everything to do with the machinery with which they worked.
We have a 34-year-old press. It was a state-of-the-art press when purchased in 1977. It sat in storage for more than two years. Construction on what we old-timers call "the new building" — our current home at 100 Summit Ave. — fell behind schedule. The press was not used until 1979.
About the time it went online, the newspaper industry was moving at breakneck speed to introduce color. Since then, we have jury-rigged the press to do something it was never intended to do — print a paper in color.
This press is beginning to show its age. We have a major mechanical problem about every 18 months. Over the next five years, we were looking to spend nearly $4 million to $5 million just to keep it running. A new press would have cost at least twice that, likely more.
The Herald-Mail has never had a lot of commercial print work, in part because we printed an afternoon paper until September 2007. About the same time we discontinued The Daily Mail, The Frederick News-Post was building a spanking new building complete with its own state-of-the-art press. The press can print two papers simultaneously and can print color on every page, something our press couldn't come close to doing.
About seven months ago, we began talking to News-Post officials, and we reached an agreement a little more than two hours before we announced the decision to our staff.
Outsourcing won't affect the newspaper's bottom line because it will cost about as much to print the paper in Frederick as it does in Hagerstown. But it will allow us to take the money we would have poured into the press to keep it limping along and invest those funds in technology, particularly in the digital area.
We have worked with The News-Post on a number of joint projects. Like us, it is a family-owned media company. The News-Post press will produce a better looking paper than our press would ever permit us to produce. That's no knock against our employees. If they had access to Frederick's press, they'd produce a better looking paper, too.
Our press room and the two dozen or so people in our packaging department will be looking for work soon. We will retain some of them, but not all.
To that end, this column affords me the opportunity most people don't have — to advocate publicly on behalf of these employees for positions at your company.
Our pressmen are skilled and dedicated. I would hire any of them if I were in the printing business.
The majority of our packaging department employees work late in the evening until early in the morning, and do so weekdays and weekends. They run the machines that place inserts into the paper. They also bundle the papers for distribution to our independent contractors, who deliver it. This is a tough job, especially for the Sunday edition.
They are as dependable as our dayside employees, despite the night work, and they work just as hard, if not harder. These folks are unsung heroes because they do the tough work. Many of our staff have been working here well over 10 years. I would vouch for all of them.
So if you're looking for press operators, or dependable, hardworking people who'll bust their butts for you day or night, weekday or weekend, contact me.
It would be one of the supreme achievements of my career if I could help every one of them land on their feet.
John League is editor and publisher of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached by calling 301-733-5131, ext. 7073, or by sending e-mail to email@example.com.