Circumstances beyond our control forcing delivery change at The New Era

*Changes are currently not expected to affect delivery for Lebanon Local.

I often tell people that the news business is never boring.

The easiest way to describe community newspaper production is it’s a very schedule-oriented business that operates in a constantly fluctuating, sometimes very chaotic, environment. You never know what’s next when that phone rings.

I also have told many people, who’ve asked, that we weathered COVID better than I expected. That was true, though we certainly had staff shortages and other impacts that others have experienced.

But now comes something new, which is going to affect you, the reader: We’re being forced to change our newspaper printer. Albany-based Oregon Web Press, a local, convenient, reliable, down-home company that has printed The New Era for decades, has announced it is no longer going to print newspapers.

That was a little bit of a shocker, because newspapers have been part of OWP’s bread-and-butter business from when it was founded back in the early 1990s.

There are a number of factors that are contributing to this.

Remember all that downtime you had during the pandemic shutdowns? How did you spend that? Doing a little online shopping, perhaps?

The exponential growth of Amazon and other online retailing has created a tremendous demand for cardboard and, consequently, mills that used to produce newsprint – the paper newspapers are printed on – have switched to producing cardboard, which is more lucrative. Also, of course, there has been less demand for printer paper and newsprint in recent years, as our world has gotten mor digitized and newspapers have closed. What’s resulted is more demand from less mills, which have struggled to fill orders.

The scramble to even procure the giant rolls of paper used by web press operations to print newspapers has, no surprise here, escalated prices. We’ve been told by our printer that “every time, it’s a bidding war” just to get newsprint these days.

Then, there’s staffing. Almost every printing operation I’m familiar with has suffered workforce losses. Printing is a very precise business – essentially a craft industry. Not just anyone can do it.

The fact that, in the last couple of decades, large newspaper chains have continually cut staff and consolidated or outsourced printing operations haven’t necessarily made that kind of work a choice career.

Consequently, staffs are aging, and printers have suffered the same “I think I’ll try something different” decisions from employees that we’ve seen all around us during the pandemic years. Printing is facing what one industry newsletter recently termed “an unheard-of shortage of talent.” In a printing industry survey, nearly 70 percent of respondents said labor shortages had affected their businesses.

Then there have been delivery problems, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, since supply-chain issues are a significant issue for all of us. Remember that Canadian trucker’s strike last spring? A lot of newsprint comes from Canada, because Americans aren’t making it, and that affected things as well.

The obvious consequence of all of this is that we’ve been looking for a new printer, and there aren’t a lot of them out there. What we’ve learned is, with the tight schedules most companies are implementing to deal with the challenges described above, it’s not a buyer’s market right now, to be blunt. A lot of printers can’t maintain a night shift, which has been a standard with most we have worked with over the years.

No matter what, it looks like we are going to have to change the date the newspaper arrives in your mailbox.

At this point, that will be Thursday, which actually is a very traditional delivery day for weekly newspapers. Since the early 1980s, we’ve delivered on Wednesdays in Sweet Home due largely to the fact that advertisers wanted their circulars in customers’ hands on that day. But after the arrival of COVID, inserts that had been staples in local newspapers have disappeared.

So now we’re going to print the next few issues in Klamath Falls, which will give us a chance to see how things work and what kind of a job the Herald and News can do for us.

Costs are skyrocketing as a result of all of this, and we’re having to deal with that as well.

I am frequently – no exaggeration here – asked by community members how we’re doing. I appreciate the fact that you care about the health of your local newspaper and I always try to answer honestly.

A major reason we’ve survived as a newspaper is the support the community has shown – advertisers, subscribers, accommodation in times of need from our local post office, etc. Though we’ve been negatively impacted by lots of factors, we’re still here.

We appreciate that immensely, and I hope that 20 years from now you’ll be reading editorial columns on happier notes.