Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Print plant woes

Editors at the Toronto Sun and London Free Press have had a keen interest in the performance of the new Quebecor printing plant in Mirabel, Quebec, since it opened last fall.

And, they have learned, not all has gone smoothly in printing the Ottawa Sun in Mirabel, with "considerably" earlier deadlines to accommodate the two-hour drive from Mirabel, mixed with some wicked whiteouts during the winter months.

Delivery times for the Toronto Sun shouldn't be a problem when the new Quebecor plant opens this summer in the city's west end, but winter storms could be problematic for the Free Press runs.

Sources say weather aside, a major drawback for the Ottawa Sun has been the absence of late sports scores due to earlier deadlines.

"Printing in Mirabel has most definitely meant that some late sports scores have been missing," says one source. "In a few instances, that even included Sens games in some editions, though none in the playoffs that I am aware of.

"There certainly have been a lot of reader complaints about missing scores and late or missing papers. When bad weather threatens in the winter, the deadline is moved up even earlier, everyone being aware of what can happen on two hours of highway in Eastern Ontario in January. (Look out London! Anyone ever hear of whiteouts in the snow belt?)"

Another source says with all of the non-newspaper commercial printing being done at the Mirabel plant, the Ottawa Sun slot is about one hour to print 55,000 papers and that is "fairly inflexible."

The toll in pressroom jobs has been heavy, with 50 to 60 non-union pressroom jobs lost in Ottawa when the tabloid's Stevenage Drive press came to a halt. More than 125 pressroom jobs will be lost at the Toronto Sun and London Free Press this summer.

A source said some of the Ottawa Sun pressroom employees were offered contract jobs at the new super press in Mirabel.

"Some went, some didn't and from what we heard, those who went, didn't stay long."

The Ottawa source said "quality and journalistic principles" have also suffered with recent Quebecor innovations, including staff cuts, centralized printing, centralized page production and corporately mandated copy, multi-tasking with multimedia and the disastrous new front-end system.

"But they don't care. They just want to get a product on the street at the lowest possible cost. I think they delude themselves that they are actually putting out good journalism, but most of the people calling the shots aren't journalists, so the results are predictable."

When the new Quebecor printing plant opens in Toronto this summer, presses at the Toronto Sun and Free Press will be silenced, ending decades of independent press runs.

Quebecor has said it hopes to have the Toronto plant fully operational by August.

The presses at 333 King Street East have been a source of pride and independence since that memorable first run in the summer of 1975.

Rumour has it that once the Sun presses are silenced, the countdown to the sale of 333 King will begin and staff will be packing for a move to a new home.

And the once-thriving, six-story building, built a short four years after the launch of the Sun, will be only a memory.

It will be a cherished memory for the thousands of staffers who contributed to the Miracle on King Street. The Sun building represents the best of times for the tabloid.

We can thank the 62 Day Oners and the leadership of Doug Creighton for all of those memories.

We will also scratch our heads and wonder how it went so very wrong at the best tabloid Canada has ever seen.

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