Five plant closures postulated in 'redundant' report

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Half a year down the track, it's curious that a report on sharing printing plant across Australia's two biggest rivals is already irrelevant.

Thought bubbles from a draft Deloittes report dated January 2018 - which would see the closure of five plants - have already been dismissed by both News Corp Australia and Fairfax Media as "redundant".

But trade publication Print21 says its emergence has caused enough concern to drive a meeting between the publishers and Lorraine Cassin, national print division secretary of the AMWU.

Mostly it's a peg on which to hang a meeting to discuss the inevitable... more inevitable, in fact than Print21 would apparently believe. In a comment to the report, publishing editor Patrick Howard - who recently sold his own publication to AdNews publisher Yaffa - says "basic elements of newspaper competition" would ensure it never happened. He cites coverage of the Thai cave rescue as an example of his personal purchasing choice made between the Sydney Morning Herald (which reported the tense wait) and Sydney's Daily Telegraph, which was able to write about their actual release.

But how many stories are there like the Thai rescue? And how many print readers like Howard?

And who's to say that if the Fairfax papers weren't printed on News' presses, rather than at the more remote, lower-cost operation in North Richmond, they wouldn't actually enjoy better deadlines, in much the same way as News dedicates one press for its national broadsheet The Australian, and different ones for the Telegraph (a practice it follows with the Oz and its sister tabloids around the country).

And indeed, in a world in which news is broken on the internet, not in print, print cooperation between rivals has become commonplace in other countries.

Not that we're saying that the Deloitte report as quoted isn't fraught with... well let's say curiosities.

Yes, it would be easy enough to absorb Fairfax's daily newspapers into News' Chullora plant - not Fairfax Chullora, as Print21 says, where press equipment including virtually the whole of a 22-tower, five-folder manroland Colorman pressline has already gone to the scrapyard - and close the updated Fairfax plants in North Richmond and Beresfield. We're not saying it would be better (which is another matter) but deadlines are really no longer the issue.

News Corp knows it has to do something about its "hot spot" Westgate Park plant in Melbourne, and has so far avoided throwing good money after bad by substantially upgrading it. A new modern plant with new presses has been the favoured option, but is an expensive one, which has had difficulty securing head office approval.

Deloitte has the new press going into Fairfax's print site in now-suburban Ballarat, a decision which would force News to the compromise Fairfax has already made in accepting earlier editorial deadlines.

And yes, the Westgate Park real estate - like that Fairfax sold in Tullamarine and Chullora - is finally worth selling.

The 18-page Project Rain report also proposes closing the relatively-recent Warwick newspaper plant News acquired from APN News & Media - something News actually announced before Christmas last year - swapping work around between News' (former APN) Yandina site and Fairfax's underutilised single Goss double-width Uniliner 70 press in Ormiston, which would also take on the work currently being produced at News' recently modernised lines in Murarrie. Or alternatively Ormiston could be closed in favour of Murarrie, which has more press capacity and was recently updated with manroland controls and QIPC colour automation. There's also some shuffling around of the Ferag mailroom kit displaced - which in the case of Murarrie, is almost new - press extensions, and the installation of a press "from storage" - presumably the single-width KBA from the Gold Coast Bulletin - in Yandina.

Either way, that's five sites - News' Westgate Park and Murarrie, and Fairfax's North Richmond, Beresfield and Warwick - to be closed. Print21 quotes "an industry source" that between 300-400 print workers would be made redundant.

As both publishers confront reduced print circulations and a greater commitment to chasing the advertising dollar in digital publishing, that's the least that could be expected, whether it comes from closing plants, increasing print automation, or both.

We haven't approached News or Fairfax for a comment, as we suspect they would make the same statement as they did to Print21, describing the "plans and assumptions" to be "completely redundant and found not to be feasible" in the case of Fairfax, and that "none of the material it contains is of any relevance today" in the case of News.

Whatever that means; perhaps another decision has already been taken, as in the case of Melbourne capacity, for example.

What's good is that however "redundant" the no doubt expensive Deloitte report has become, we're having the discussion.

Peter Coleman

Above: A map from the report, and (below) Deloitte's 'activity timeline - best case scenario', into which the name of a defunct web browser has mysteriously crept

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