Capital idea: Canberra's culture of quality

Capital idea: Canberra's culture of quality
There’s a culture of quality about Fairfax Media’s Canberra print site, Capital Fine Print, which is perhaps encapsulated in the fact they still refer to the 14-year-old manroland Geoman there as ‘the new press’.

Perhaps too, in the way staff identify with the federal capital’s daily newspaper, the ‘Canberra Times’, which is published from offices on the same site. And to everyone’s credit, the press still looks new and well-loved... despite the plaque announcing that the plant was opened by then chairman Kerry Stokes on September 13, 1996.

The Stokes era ended a couple of years later, when Rural Press bought the paper, and a fourth tower and an extra folder have since extended the press line.

More change has also followed with the merger of Rural Press into Fairfax: Subtly, a volume of contract printing work including News Limited Melbourne suburbans – and jobs such as ‘Trading Post’ – has gone, and been replaced by internal and commercial work, including one of the catalogues in last Saturday’s paper.

Throughout, that culture remains strong. It’s noticeable through the clean print, crisp prepress and colour quality of the daily paper... and especially the NSW production of the ‘Sunday Life’ supplement to the Fairfax Sunday ‘Sun-Herald’ which switched from being a heatset product last year.

“I think one of the reasons we got that was because of our reputation for quality,” operations manager Jon Clarke tells me.

Plaques marking successive successes in the PANPA technical awards attest to this: “We’ve almost always been in the top three, winning best newspaper in our class on six or seven occasions,” he says.

Innovation also played a part: With no facilities for variable web-widths, the Canberra production team developed several workarounds to allow production of the smaller product on site. The press has been ‘tricked’ into accepting narrower reels, but since we’re forbidden to tell you, you’ll have to work out for yourself, how they did it! .

“It took some thought, but now we expect that other products may change to the smaller size,” Clarke says.

In a plant where the three longest-serving staff have 70 years’ service between them, Clarke has been in Canberra for 17 years, having joined as a (coldset) typesetter when the paper was printed using photopolymer plates on an old Goss letterpress line. But there’s news ink in his blood... from the ‘Cootamundra Herald’ where he – reluctantly at first – worked for his father and mother, some time before that too, was acquired by Rural Press.

The double-width Geoman press prints an all-colour product, and colour classifieds – even simple upsells such as a colour teddy in a personal announcement – have been part of the routine for years.

The 2005 press upgrade took capacity from 96 to 128 tabloid pages, and added the flexibility of being able to split production into two folders. Its semi-shaftless design was groundbreaking at the time, and follows a pattern of which the Canberra team is proud.

“We’ve always been at the cutting edge,” says Clarke. “We were the first daily with CTP and the first with Cyber’s (Atex) Genera publishing system.

“With that comes some pain, but also prestige and a competitive edge.”

In fact, the site is on its second generation of CTP, with two Kodak TrendsetterNews platesetters with Nela Vision benders doing service in place of the Polaris units originally installed (and now relocated to Dubbo).

CIP3 prepress data is used for ink presets and soft-proofing in the press area. The press, which has Quad-Tech’s Autotrans colour register system, has quarterfold, and a stitching system which can be moved from one folder to the other.

Downstream, there’s a buffered Ferag mailroom with Rollstream precollators and an inserting drum, installed at the same time as the press. And because of the substantial Canberra Times Direct direct-delivery operation, an inline CMC polywrapping line which flat-packs newspapers (with onserts such as CDs if required) at 22,000 cph. About a third of readers receive their paper direct from the publisher – with subscriptions managed by Atex’s Matrix circulation product – and the system is capable of inkjetting addresses or personalised messages on the foil wrapper.

Working with local agent Mailpack, CFP has developed an inline system which works well – it replaces three Rollpack units – and delivers a product which has been well received by readers. One unexpected challenge was for deliverers to learn how to throw flat packs with the same accuracy as rolled newspapers.

The broadsheet ‘Canberra Times’ includes preprints and supplements most days, but the biggest product is Saturday’s 72 broadsheet pages plus the stitched ‘Panorama’ lifestyle tabloid and a healthy 80 pages of ‘Domain’-branded property, also stitched and trimmed.

The flagship title is published from Monday to Saturday, with circulations between 35,000 (Mon-Fri), Saturday’s 55,000, and a tabloid ‘Sunday Canberra Times’ edition running at about 35,000.

Two heatset supplements – Wednesday’s Food & Wine guide and a ‘Relax’ lifestyle magazine on Sundays – are printed at Rural Press North Richmond.

In its turn, Capital Fine Print also prints a variety of internal and commercial work: As well as ‘Sunday Life’ and the ‘Canberra Chronicle’ freesheet series, there’s a string of NSW South Coast titles, some of which have print orders below 2000 copies.

A belief that these should have the same attention to quality as bigger runs may distort waste figures, but Clarke says Canberra still claims some of the shortest start-ups in the group.

Despite a range of new challenges within the Fairfax group – of which he is printing and distribution project manager – Barrie Murphy is still very hands on as general manager of Capital Fine Print. When I visit, he is about to fly to Fairfax’s print site in Mandurah, WA, but still finds time to keep an eye on tests to rectify a mailroom problem. His is a key role in a quality culture which “starts at the top”, as Clarke tells me.

Another long-server, Murphy entered the industry as an apprentice at the ‘Star’ in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he has recently been involved in the commissioning of the Goss Unliliner press at Fairfax’s new facility there. Projects at Mandurah, Ballarat, Ormiston and Murray Bridge have also had his technical attention... and he was project manager at the ‘Canberra Times’ when the Geoman was installed.

Says Murphy: “You have to get involved on a day-to-day basis, even though there’s an excellent skill level within the plant.

“We have a very adaptable workforce... people who are prepared to go the extra yard. Pressroom staff work in publishing, and trade assistants learn platemaking. We’ve had that from day one,” he says.

He’s talking about when the ‘new press’ went in, of course.
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