Efficiency by design

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Home News Enterprises staff members conduct the first budget meeting as a consolidated design desk at the offices of The Republic (Columbus). Home News went live with a central design center for two of its newspapers in June.

When Home News Enter­prises shifted to a central design desk this summer, it joined the growing ranks of news groups looking for more efficient ways to produce print products.

Home News paginates two of its papers, The Republic (Columbus) and the Daily Journal (Franklin), at a central desk in Columbus.

The design staff there will take on HNE’s Seymour Tribune in August and, later, the Brown County Democrat.

Newspapers get savings in time and costs with a single layout staff. Frequent communication and local copy editing make the system successful, said Indiana newspaper editors who use the approach.

Copy editing happens on site at the five Lee Enterprises newspapers designed at The Times of Northwest Indiana’s central desk, said Bill Nangle, executive editor for the Munster newspaper.

“We believe strongly you need people on the scene to read stories who know names and locations,” Nangle said. “Someone in a central location wouldn’t know that.”

Lee Enterprises put its central desk in operation last year, designing newspapers from Rapid City, S.D.; Sioux City, Iowa; Maysville, Ky., and Auburn, N.Y., in addition to The Times.

Communication is key, but especially when editors and off-site designers start coordinating a move to central layout, said Ben Cunningham, design director at The Times and news design manager for Lee Enterprises.

“Building that relationship is probably the most import in the beginning,” Cunningham said.

Home News focuses on creating a customer-service culture with off-site editors, said Scarlett Syse, group editor for HNE who leads the central design desk.

“There is a certain anxiety that your paper is no longer designed where your editor is,” Syse said

To alleviate growing pains as much as possible, Syse and her staff talk with editors twice a day by conference call and informally throughout the day by email and phone. News decisions such as story ranking remain with local editorial staffs.

“Editors tell us what the centerpiece is,” she said. “They have to direct us.”

KPC Media group has been handling design this way since the cut-and-paste days, said Dave Kurtz, executive editor.

KPC’s The Star (Auburn) and The News Sun (Kendallville) have shared news and design duties since the ’70s, and The Herald Republican (Angola) joined the mix when KPC purchased it in 2001.

“So it’s been such a gradual evolution,” Kurtz said. “It’s just the way it always was.”

Unlike at Lee and HNE, where editors ship finished stories and photos to a design desk for pagination, KPC papers start their pages and put most locally generated copy on them before turning them over to central designers.

The hand-off procedures evolve as needed.

“A story that’s being shared by more than one newspaper might be added at either stage depending on when it’s done,” Kurtz said.

KPC handles all wire and obituary pages in one location from start to finish.

In HNE’s design center, A1 frame-ups come together in the morning.

“We are really focused on getting those marque front pages done early in the day,” Syse said. “Some days we’re more successful than others.”

Local copy editors at The Republic and the Daily Journal sign off on stories before they go to designers, and those same editors see the stories again after pagination.

“We are sending pages to two folks to proof, so they are catching things that maybe we wouldn’t,” Syse said. “We wanted to not lessen the quality expectation on the copy editing side.”

Lee Enterprises, which advised HNE in its move to central designing, takes a similar approach.

Everything for a page – photos, stories, cut lines – comes together to a designer, who assembles the page, Nangle said.

“Once they design the page, they send that back to the site’s copy desk,” he said. “The copy desk proofs the page and can make corrections.”

Designers at The Times rely on a checklist to keep duties from getting lost in the shuffle.

“It’s the little things you forget about that trip you up, like who downloads the horoscopes, the comics?” Cunningham said.

With copy editing done at individual newspapers, the design staff can focus on layout and get pages out quickly, he said.

The result is the cost savings that papers need to thrive in today’s news climate, Nangle said.

Lee Enterprises’ smaller papers in particular have benefited from utilizing the skilled designers at the central location, he said.

“We see improved quality but at reduced expense,” Nangle said.

The central design concept also brings together people from all of a group’s papers for collaboration.

“They aren’t total strangers,” Kurtz said. “It encourages the idea that you are all one team – not separate teams.”