One of the United States’ oldest newspapers the Philadelphia Inquirer is going against the grain with an investment to increase the value of its paper edition.
A new print production system now in operation is saving several minutes per story while streamlining workflow, as well as giving readers a newspaper with bolder content and design.
Some say printed newspapers’ time is up, and point to the relentless advance of digitalisation. But this view is challenged by multiple Pulitzer Prize-winner the Philadelphia Inquirer, which has invested to improve its print edition.
Founded in 1829, the Inquirer is the third-oldest continuously operating daily newspaper in the US. Yet today, with over 13.3 million readers each month through its print and digital editions, apps and newsletters, they remain one of the largest daily newspapers in the country. And unlike other newspapers on the market, they continue to show a strong upward trend.
Despite this, daily workflow had been fraught with challenges, one of the biggest being their more than 20-year-old production system for print and online.
Chief technology and product officer Matt Boggie says the workflow had been based on outdated technology, and the frustration of working in it grew among employees. “Multiple tasks that needed to be performed manually made it difficult for us to effectively maintain the high level of content that characterizes the Philadelphia Inquirer,” he said.
The Inquirer had already replaced its existing CMS with Arc XP, one of the most modern on the market, which – combined with the pandemic and subsequent shift to remote work – made it more urgent to move print away from a self-hosted layout tool to a system which could offer a more streamlined production process.
The search for a print system that complemented Arc XP led them to web-based Roxen, which also met demands for a solution that would integrate with Adobe InDesign and create additional opportunities for visual storytelling.
“The overarching goal was efficiency,” Boggie says. “We asked ourselves, ‘How can we make sure that we're making the best use of our creative talents' time?’ If we can reduce the amount of time it takes to put together the paper, that will allow them to focus more on the design itself and create great layouts combining text, illustrations, and interesting infographics.
“Today's readers have higher expectations on how these elements should complement each other to enhance the message.”
Features included automated writing templates developed with Norway’s TikkTakk, which automatically adapt to the content. An article is packaged directly in Arc XP and transferred as one unit to the editorial portal, requiring minimal manual intervention from print editors. The system is also used for a daily e-newspaper.
Boggie says another objective was to use the format of the print edition format in a much bolder way. “We save literally minutes per story, so, we've been taking a lot of that time saved and investing back into the product.
“Today our readers see something that is much more thoughtful and frankly fun to read every day,” he says.
“There is still great value in the paper edition, and in this way, we can give people a great product at a very reasonable production cost and hope to run it profitably for longer than we might have in the past.”
The changes have been accompanied by the most comprehensive redesign in 30 years, undertaken by international agency Pentagram. Leaving their traditional layout behind, they are working towards a distinct visual language better reflecting the character of the vibrant and diverse city itself, all the while returning to the paper’s heritage.
“Some parts of our design felt outdated, but we also felt disconnected from the history of the paper,” says Boggie. “We’ve been here in Philadelphia under different names since the times of the revolution, so we wanted our long history to be reflected in the design.
“The nice thing about paper is that it is somewhat permanent. If you are featured in a story, you don't go to the website and print it out.; you go and get a copy that you might even frame.
“We aspire to keep that sense of permanence in the design as well – knowing that someone might hold on to this forever.”