Originally created 12/13/04

Printing trouble delays delivery



A series of problems with The Augusta Chronicle's presses Saturday night and early Sunday was to blame for many readers receiving their newspaper as late as Sunday evening.

Chronicle President Julian Miller said the delays were the worst he has seen in his 25 years at the newspaper and "perhaps the worst in The Chronicle's history."

The difficulties began Saturday night when the long sheets of newsprint the presses print on started breaking after a few hundred copies. "Rewebbing" of the paper from the 1,800-pound rolls usually takes about 25 minutes. Technicians on staff and those called in were never able to determine the cause of the "web breaks," which continued throughout the run.

Normally, 28,000 to 30,000 newspapers stream through the equipment each hour, but Production Director Pat McCue said that by 4 a.m. only 4,000 of 96,000 newspapers had been distributed to carriers and sales outlets.

Mr. Miller said 70,000 copies were printed in Savannah, Ga., at the Savannah Morning News, also owned by Morris Communications Co.

Mr. Miller said it was only the second time in recent history that The Chronicle has been printed at another newspaper's facilities.

The last of those newspapers were not delivered to carriers until midafternoon Sunday. To help speed the delivery, more than two dozen members of the news, advertising, alternative delivery and online staffs, and some Morris corporate employees, volunteered to help insert advertising and supplemental materials into the papers.

"The more difficult aspect for carriers was delivering the papers in traffic," Mr. Miller said. "That goes much more smoothly when the carriers are delivering in the early morning hours and don't have to compete with traffic from Christmas shoppers."

Throughout the day Sunday, additional staff members helped answer a massive number of phone calls. In the Morris Customer Service Department, workers said they received about 20,000 calls by 2:30 p.m., answering almost 3,000. Most of the others hung up after hearing of the problems from the automated answering system.

Workers were unable to track the number of customers who called the switchboard or other numbers at the newspaper. Many, they said, received busy signals as the huge volume swamped the company's phone lines.

Mr. Miller said production workers planned to reproduce Sunday's printing configurations today to attempt to determine the cause of the web breaks. He said they would print today's newspaper on three press units that were unaffected by Sunday's problems.

Reach Dena Levitz at (706) 823-3339 or dena.levitz@augustachronicle.com.