News breaking new ground as Melbourne print project progresses

News Corp Australia is looking forward to better times with progress on its Melbourne print site plans, while coping with the implications of the COVID-19 lockdown.

While News production teams have been flat out coping with the social distancing implications of Australia's COVID-19 lockdown, the publisher is pushing ahead with plans for a greenfield print centre in Melbourne.

Currently print sites are closed to all but print and mailroom staff, who have abandoned continuous running to provide a safety gap at shift changeover times. Management, suppliers and other visitors are not allowed to enter sites.

Executive general manager for production and property operations Marcus Hooke told GXpress it took a week of solid work to establish new routines in response to the pandemic. "It's been flat out," he says. All of News print sites in Australia are operating, although workloads have been affected by the shutdown of some suburban print products in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, as well as smaller product sizes, while slackening of restrictions in New Zealand affecting Norske Skog's Tasman mill are expected to bring a welcome improvement in newsprint supply lines.

Meanwhile, ground has been broken at the new site in the outer-western suburb of Truganina, where News has a "build-and-lease" agreement and is expected to announce details of the partnership shortly.

As reported by GXpress last September, lightly (and carefully) used equipment has been accumulated over months and includes double-width presses from Sydney and Melbourne, plus Ferag mailroom kit acquired from the closed Guardian print site in London. The plant will print the top-selling Herald-Sun, local editions of The Australian, and other work including News' Leader community papers, the new format of which does not fit the existing Westgate Park presses.

Melbourne is emotionally significant to News Corp, base of the Herald & Weekly Times for which Keith Murdoch worked as journalist - famous for his uncensored reports from Gallipoli - editor and eventually its chairman. It was finally acquired by his son Rupert in 1987.

Penny Fowler, current chairman of the HWT and News' 'community ambassador', is Rupert Murdoch's niece and credited with introducing him to current wife Jerry Hall.

Replacing the huge print centre at Westgate Park, where the pressroom is so long a bicycle is needed to get around, was never going to be easy, but as the manroland presses installed as part of a billion-dollar 1987 order got older, it was increasingly a hot-spot requiring attention.

Web-offset colour capacity - originally only four-colour on one side of the web and spot colour on the other - was upgraded with a variety of solutions, and worn-out mailroom equipment replaced.

But as the needs of modern newspaper production changed, and print orders got more modest, it was clear that a new facility was needed. One solution would have been to acquire the The Age's Tullamarine print centre - which had three manroland Geoman presses and extensive mailroom - from rival Fairfax Media... but that was never going to happen. Instead about half of the Tullamarine plant was redeployed - mostly to Fairfax sites Ballarat, Wellington and North Richmond - and, after the remainder had been scrapped, the real estate was sold for use as an upmarket car showroom.

GXpress revealed last July that the Westgate Park complex, at which six manroland Newsman 40 presses have been located since 1992 - had been sold in April, reportedly for $55 million in a sale-and-leaseback arrangement, firing the "starting gun" on the Truganina development and helping fund it.

Included at the new location will be a Goss Uniliner is from the former Fairfax Media (latterly Australian Community Media) print site in Ormiston, Queensland - closed following a production-sharing agreement with News - and a manroland Geoman, now surplus to requirements at News' Chullora, NSW, print site.

Both presses, originally installed in 2008, are capable of 160 pages tabloid in full colour, and News is likely to take advantage of the fact that both makers are now part of the same German-headquartered company to match control systems and give operators a similar "look and feel" on both.

manroland Goss Australasia - the Australian sales and service subsidiary of manroland Goss web systems - will relocate the two presses.

Three Ferag inserting lines are part of mailroom equipment acquired from the Guardian UK operations, closed when the London-and-Manchester publisher abandoned its unique Berliner format after being unable to get contract work, but still eminently suitable for News' tabloid and broadsheet products.

  • Never heard of it? Truganina is 22 km west of Melbourne's central business district - within the cities of Melton and Wyndham - its name being an anglicised version of that of a woman widely (but possibly wrongly) believed to be the last full-blooded aboriginal Tasmanian woman. Designated 3029, it had a post office from 1878-1895 and 1902-1942 but is now served from nearby Tarneit.

Peter Coleman

Pictured: News' Westgate Print Complex in Todd Road, Port Melbourne (photo Google); Ferag mailroom equipment at one of the UK Guardian's print sites prior to their closure (photo Guardian, Zack Frackelton); the double-width Goss Uniliner T90 at Ormiston

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