News Corp in talks on remaining SEQ print sites

There's speculation about the future of its two remaining southeast Queensland print centres as News Corp Australia looks to consolidate Murarrie (Brisbane) and Yandina following closure of most of its regional print editions.

The company says consultations with employees and representatives began today and will conclude within a fortnight.

Executive general manager production, logistics and property Marcus Hooke is quoted that "we simply don't have the same demand and are now facing excess production capacity" following the transition to digital-only mastheads.

The manroland-equipped hybrid print site at Yandina on the Sunshine Coast has been increasingly busy since News acquired it from APN Print for $36.6 million along with a bunch of 12 daily and 60 nondaily regional newspapers in 2016.

Of the former APN mastheads, News last week stopped printing all but the Toowoomba Chronicle.

Despite a strong campaign ahead of the closures, only 8000 (now 10,000) readers have so far taken up subscriptions across the 76 mastheads which transitioned to digital in the last four weeks, twice as many as last year and a result News describes as a "strong uptick". It's early days, but I hope that if the jobs of journalists and others at affected publishing sites are to be sustained, many more of the hundreds of thousands of people who previously relied on a print edition make the switch to digital.

Commissioned in 2006 at a cost of $80 million, the Yandina print site was the jewel in an APN re-equipment programme which included new print sites at Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Toowoomba and Ballina - most closed - equipped with Indian-made Manugraph presses, and an upgrade in Mackay; printing in Warwick on the former Ballina press has just ceased. The future of the Rockhampton site - on which News had been printing some local copies of the Courier-Mail, but has stopped printing titles including the Morning Bulletin and Gladstone Observer - is not known.

Sandwiched between a macadamedia processing plant and largest ginger factory in the southern hemisphere, the former APN Print Yandina site had been getting busier and busier... until last week.

Central to it is a hybrid manroland line including a 2/2 Uniset heatset press - converted by News to produce 12 or 24 page compact tabloid sections up to 60,000 copies per hour - and a flexible four-tower Regioman 4/1 press inline and capable of printing up to 64 pages tabloid in four-page increments. In a highly mechanised mailroom, two folders were online to a six-station Müller Martini Printroll wind/unwind buffer with an Exacto rotary trimmer and two SLS3000 inserters, a Vivo log stacker and a hopper-loaded Bravo saddlestitcher.

One of the reasons why it's been so busy until lately has been a new commitment to printing the glossy real estate sessions of the Courier-Mail.

In the pressroom - which adjoins the Bruce Highway - space had been left for additional Regioman and Uniset towers, a second dryer... and even a complete second pressline if required.

Which begs the question of what options News is considering.

Its plant in Murarrie is much larger - designed for metro daily production in the 1980s - but older, despite a control upgrade in 2014 to the then-20-year-old presses and the replacement of the Ferag mailroom equipment.

With printing of its Quest suburban and former APN regional titles now ended, News has effectively only the Courier-Mail (and Sunday Mail), The Australian, Gold Coast Bulletin and Toowoomba Chronicle requiring primetime (or any) print slots, all of which with print orders much smaller than they were when the last modernisation took place.

"We are working closely with our employees to ensure the best possible outcomes for them all," Marcus Hooke says.

Will News move its Yandina heatset capacity to Murarrie, or contemplate reshaping the Sunshine Coast facility to take on the full commitment there? Watch this space.

Peter Coleman

Pictured: Freight entrance of the Yandina print centre yesterday

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