By Kevin Slimp
Newspaper consultant

On a recent Tuesday, I received requests to visit five newspapers in four states.

Some have training needs. Others want advice concerning the overall structure of their operations. Still others are hoping I can find the solution to problems that have plagued their newspapers for too long.

There’s not much I haven’t seen after 20 years of consulting, so issues that might be huge in the eyes of a client often have simple solutions when seen through different eyes.

Not every operation can invite a consultant on-site, so here are three of the most common questions I’m asked when I visit newspapers:

Question 1: Is there a better way to produce my newspaper?

The topic of production comes up a lot. This particular question is one of the most difficult, because there’s almost always someone who doesn’t like the answer.

That’s what makes this a difficult question. It’s not that I don’t have suggestions. Usually, within a short time I’ve noticed some potential improvements to the workflow.

It’s natural for people to resist change. So I tread this question gently, hoping to gain the trust of most everyone on staff before sharing my thoughts.

For instance, most people enjoy designing pages. However, it’s important to have good designers working on pages and good writers writing stories.

Sure, photographers sometimes like having total control of their photos, but there’s often someone on staff who is particularly skilled at color editing, leaving the photographer more time for what they do best – shooting photos. Someone has to focus on the dot gain and other aspects of great printing results, and photographers often don’t have time.

Sometimes I advise changes in workflow, and sometimes I realize that for the time being, things might work better as they are.

Question 2: Why are ads clogging up the system or printing incorrectly?

Sometimes it seems like I’ve spent my life dealing with PDF issues. I haven’t visited a paper in a long time that didn’t have issues with PDF files.

Many don’t realize their trouble is coming from PDF files.

A pressman might ask, “Why do files coming from advertising cause errors when going through the RIP (raster image processor)?”

A publisher might ask, “Why are we losing so much money because ads aren’t printing right in our paper?”

A page designer might ask, “Why are quotation marks turning to strange symbols?” or “Why are boxes appearing on the page where letters should be?”

As much as the good folks at Adobe want you to believe otherwise, the answer is almost always found in the method used to create the PDF files.

A common messages I receive after visiting a client is, “We’ve already covered your cost in savings from ads printing correctly.”

Ensuring those PDF files are error-free before sending them to the RIP will make everyone sleep better.

Question 3: Will centralizing production increase profits and produce better papers?

When approached with the idea of moving the productions of multiple newspapers to a central office, I’ve found it wise to do more listening than talking.

Most clients are hoping I will say, “Yes, that’s a good idea.”

I figure, however, they’re paying me good money and want objective answers.

Sometimes the answer is “yes.” If they own three papers in one county with a total circulation of 1,600, it probably doesn’t take three full-time design staffs to lay out the pages.

However, often the answer is “not so fast.”

Research indicates that often the best way to produce long-term growth is improving the quality of the products. Moving to a central production facility usually has more to do with reaching short-term cost reduction goals than achieving long-term growth.

Often when faced with this question, I will have serious discussions with a publisher, CEO or other manager, resulting in a decision to use current resources to improve the quality and profits of their newspapers, rather than cutting to grow, which rarely works in the long run.

Kevin Slimp works as a newspaper industry trainer, speaker, writer and consultant.