Supply Chain Blues | Editor and publisher

Mary Redon | for editor and editor

Leonard Woolsey, president of Southern Newspapers, recently received some bad news. A truck had an incident on the road, destroying thousands of dollars worth of newsprint from a vendor at a Southern Newspapers property in Kerrville, north of San Antonio. “It’s just a crazy story that will make every news editor cry because we’re trying so hard to get newsprint these days.”

There are no tears in newspapers, but many in the industry will understand the frustration of losing newsprint as newspapers nationwide scramble to keep enough rolls in stock to make their runs. “I would say it’s as rare as I think anyone who’s been in this business anytime has ever seen it,” said Woolsey, whose company owns 10 newspapers in Texas and one in Oklahoma. . Publishers also keep a close eye on ink and printing plate supplies.

According to a Georgian publisher, the supply chain downturns that began about 18 months ago show no signs of abating. “I wouldn’t say it’s better. I don’t think it gets much worse. But I’m not encouraged that we’ve turned the corner yet,” Otis Brumby III, president and publisher of Times-Journal Incorporated, Marietta, told E&P in May.

Otis Brumby III, President and Publisher of Times-Journal Inc., Marietta, Georgia

Brumby said his company’s good relationship and flow of communication with his newsprint suppliers helped manage the situation. “One of the things we’ve tried to do to compensate for that is just keep a higher amount of inventory than we normally would. That way, if there are any surprises or a truck delay or something like that, it doesn’t have a material impact on our overall business because we also do a lot of the commercial printing. We want to make sure we don’t have to phone our customers to tell them that we we have no more newspaper.

Kruger Inc., headquartered in Montreal, is the principal supplier of newsprint to The Times-Journal. The company also uses small suppliers. The Times-Journal has three dailies and several weeklies in suburban Atlanta.

Publishers know that trucking issues are the most obvious contributor to supply chain issues. “Just all the labor shortages and fuel costs, and there aren’t enough trucks on the road right now to handle all the supply nationwide. We’re just one of the industries affected by this,” Brumby said. He points out that many factors are beyond sellers’ control.

At Gannett’s

According to Wayne Pelland, senior vice president of publishing operations at Gannett, there aren’t many solutions to the low newsprint supply. Gannett has a dedicated in-house newsprint supply unit that supplies Gannett facilities and external customers. “We have strategic partnerships with many newsprint suppliers, but there is so much competition for supply that the price has become extremely high, and there are many opportunities for suppliers to sell newsprint in different places. in the world. We need to watch our inventories closely,” Pelland told E&P.

Gannett spends a lot of time and resources moving newsprint when faced with a lack of supply, he said. “It happens to us quite often because of the lack of supplies. And it should get worse in the third and fourth quarters.

Gannett uses Kruger, White Birch and a number of other vendors, Pelland said.

As publishers perform a delicate dance to keep the paper flowing, they are turning to alternative methods and outreach. “There are publishers from different companies under different owners constantly checking on each other and sharing newsprint between facilities, which has never happened before,” Woolsey said.

Southern Newspapers has an agreement with Cox Newsprint, whose main supplier is the Canadian company Resolute Forest Products Inc. Southern Newspapers sometimes uses other suppliers for specialized work.

Leonard Woolsey, President of Southern Newspapers

So far, Southern Newspapers hasn’t had to make any changes to its product, but it’s come close. “Even if you have the order and the newsprint is supposed to arrive, you can’t count on it showing up because there’s also a lot of diversion. A truck can be booked for you, and it’s on the way, and the newsprint company might have to say, “You know what, something happened to this guy. And we have to divert that newsprint truck from Bob to Joe at the last minute. And, you know, we understand that because next week we could be Bob, trying to hijack some newsprint from Joe.

Woolsey points to several reasons behind the newsprint supply problem: the trucking and shipping industries are still struggling following COVID shutdowns, trucking protests earlier this year in Canada, and the war in Ukraine. Russia has supplied newsprint to Europe, and those European consumers are now looking to North America.

The Chinese newsprint exporter that finds itself stuck again is also a factor, as the entities that have obtained the Chinese paper are also looking to North American sources. “It’s like a perfect storm,” Woolsey said, and it’s stressful for Southern Newspapers’ printing and press supervisors. “I know some of our people who have gotten into trucks themselves and gone to another site to borrow six rolls of newspaper to drive across the state of Texas to their site so they can use it.”

Sing the melody

Woolsey has seen the cost of newsprint jump about 25% over the past year, more price increases in the past year and a half than likely in the previous 15 years combined, he estimates. He said it’s a publisher’s responsibility to communicate this reality to their audience. “Editors have the opportunity to write columns to the community, and they speak out at Rotary clubs and civic groups. They need to sing this tune, laying the groundwork for the potential for changes caused by the market.

Suppliers say they expect a few more bumps over the next four to six months, Woolsey said. He has seen indications that this turbulence will continue at least through the end of this year and possibly into the first quarter of 2023.

“As the unprecedented pace of inflationary cost movements continues to impact the entire spectrum of raw materials and packaging components for the ink industry, with no sign of stabilization in sight, the “Industry is also being hit by sharp increases in energy costs of all kinds, including electricity, gas, fuel and diesel, which have a huge impact on manufacturing costs and transport costs,” reads -on in a February press release from ink maker Sun Chemical Corporation.

Brumby said his company is keeping more ink and plate stock than before the pandemic. Woolsey said it has seen at least a double-digit ink price increase over the past six months.

Meanwhile, aluminum prices soared in February after Russia invaded Ukraine, bringing down printing plates. “Geopolitical conflicts have impacts on our local communities,” Brumby said. The increase in aluminum can mean surcharges on plates, amounting to thousands of dollars a month, Woolsey said. “Fortunately, we are increasing our income. If we weren’t a growing revenue business, it would be even harder to manage,” he said. “We have advertisers coming out of the woods right now.”

Mary Reardon is a Wisconsin-based writer and editor.