It has come to my attention, through a variety of ways, that the Cecil Whig, a publication that has been around for the better part of 170 years, will no longer be printed locally. Interestingly enough, rumors were swirling about the changes days before official word came down, which might explain why the Cecil Whig website posted a piece by Publisher David Fike on late Friday or early Saturday morning, the day after the news was revealed to Elkton employees, likely as a means of trying to control those rumors. Unfortunately, because of the paywall that exists on the Whig’s site, you can’t access anything other than the first two paragraphs, which only shows some catch phrases like “evolving our overall business model”, and “a need to scale back spending to fit today’s economy.” Perhaps the rest of the piece might have been a little more optimistic, but I wouldn’t know because of the paywall. Internet Awareness 101, right there folks. A chance to frame what is a pretty important announcement about the County’s paper of record, but the casual citizen of Cecil County can’t even read it. What was that about evolving? Of course, I’m sure it will be on Monday’s front page, so you can always read it there while waiting in line for coffee at Wawa.
By all reports, press operations at the Elkton plant will be shut down, and all equipment transferred to the Easton, MD office. As for personnel, some will be offered the ability to transfer to Easton, but there will inevitably be more layoffs. This is the latest shift of resources from Elkton to Easton for the company, following nearly half of the Elkton printing plant’s personnel and operations being shifted in April of last year. After this, all camera, pre-press, mailroom and printing activity for Chesapeake Publishing will be done exclusively out of Easton.
The Whig, and David Fike have gone to great lengths to explain that this consolidation effort, as they call it, is a retooling and not a steady shut down of the Elkton office or The Cecil Whig, as some fear. All editorial and sales for the Elkton plant’s publications will still be done locally, albeit, in what amounts to a large, mostly empty warehouse. According to Fike, the consolidation effort isn’t related to their publishing operations (not quite sure how that can be considering printing is a pretty big part of publishing operations, in my experience) and The Cecil Whig is not closing. To even feel the need to express that publicly may show that there exists some concern within Chespub about how this latest move will affect The Whig’s standing and reputation in our community.
When I first heard this, my initial thought was expense. According to the Whig, consolidating print operations in Easton leads to spending less money, but there is one rather immediate issue, that being geography. With the Elkton plant, The Whig could print a day’s edition and distribute it from a centrally located point in the County. Now, the paper will be printed in Easton, and presumably shipped to Elkton every day. For a daily publication with circulation rates suggested to be 15,000-19,000 copies (and that’s not counting the many and varied inserts) that’s a lot of bulk weight to be trucking an hour and a half every morning just to reach the same point where actual distribution starts. And that says nothing for time. Will the paper have to be done earlier to allow for the travel time? What results could losing those possibly valuable hours have on coverage? And what will be the additional expense of trucking a load like that every day be?
Consolidating print operations may, in fact, be in the best interests of the overall company, but it’s difficult to see how it’s in the best interests of The Whig itself. In fact, I would assume no appreciable savings on the cost of print work, (you’ve still got to pay roughly the same number of people to run the presses for the same amount of time using the same amount of materials, and using some of the same equipment, in fact) and additional expenses for trucking that currently don’t exist. This for a publication already having a tough go of it revenue wise in the down economy.
It’s a very trying time for the publishing industry, newspapers in particular, but watching a stalwart portion of our county transferred a piece at a time out of town is troubling. Say what you want about newspapers, but we still rely a great deal on what they produce. Change may be inevitable, but will we even recognize what’s left after it’s over?
Note: By the way, in the interest of full disclosure, I have been employed by Chesapeake on two occasions, from 1997-2000, and from April of last year through March of this year. I was let go as editor of The Mariner, another Chespub product soon to be formerly printed in Elkton, in March. Take that for what it’s worth.