The Press Democrat to close its Rohnert Park printing facility
In a move that protects the long-term quality of local journalism, The Press Democrat plans to close its Rohnert Park printing facility in April and shift production to the East Bay.
Steve Falk, the news organization’s CEO and publisher, told employees Tuesday evening company leaders have targeted Sunday, April 3, as the last night the aging presses will churn out a print edition from Rohnert Park.
Starting with the Tuesday, April 5, edition, The Press Democrat will be published at the San Francisco Chronicle’s East Bay production site in Fremont.
“This decision was difficult, but inevitable,” Falk said in a companywide email. “We have 40 hard-working employees who will be impacted by this change, many of them with lengthy years of service. We will provide severance, references, career counseling and as much help as possible to help them find their next job.”
Falk added both The Press Democrat and its parent company, locally owned Sonoma Media Investments (SMI), “are grateful for the press crews’ individual skills and their collective commitment to quality for our print readers and advertising partners. They helped ensure decades of award-winning newspapers were produced and delivered to our grateful readers.”
The ”inevitable” part of the decision to close Rohnert Park, Falk said, is based on three factors: the age and rising maintenance costs of The Press Democrat’s 35-year-old press equipment; a dramatic shift in readers’ habits away from print newspapers to pressdemocrat.com; and a companywide commitment to invest in the protection and expansion of high-quality, meaningful journalism.
“When Sonoma Media Investments purchased The Press Democrat in 2012, we had more than 50,000 seven-day subscribers and very few digital subscribers,” Falk said. “Today, our print totals have shrunk to about half, but digital subscriptions have grown to 17,000 along with about 2 million monthly website readers — and those numbers are growing.”
The newspaper’s readership, Falk said, “is incredibly strong, and our journalism is excellent and getting even better. However, we can no longer maintain a 70,000-square-foot printing plant and 35-year-old equipment for a 90-minute press run.”
Reinvesting the savings, he added, “means we can invest in our newsroom and both protect and expand the staff, which allows the high-quality work that team is now producing to only get better.”
Newspapers around the country are closely examining their production processes. The Press Democrat is following what hundreds of newspapers — small and large — have already done: Consolidate with another regional publisher to print morning editions so efforts and capital can be invested in local journalism.
“But unlike other news organizations, from Gannett and Lee Enterprises to Advance Publications, we will not be reducing the number of days we publish,” Falk said. “We will remain a seven-days-a-week newspaper focused on relevant news across Sonoma County. We are not abandoning a valued and respected core group of readers who still start their morning with The Press Democrat and a cup of coffee.”
Shifting production to Fremont does mean slightly earlier evening deadlines for The Press Democrat’s newsroom, which right now has a 10:30 p.m. press start. The move means some late-evening breaking news stories and sports scores will not make the morning edition. All of those details will be found on pressdemocrat.com and the newspaper’s social media channels.
“An earlier deadline is an unavoidable result in this formula, but we need to look toward the future,” Falk said.
“We’re one of the last West Coast newspapers to outsource our printing. The Chronicle’s newer and advanced presses guarantee a high-quality product with better reproduction and expanded color capacity on more pages. They also print the Sacramento and Fresno newspapers, among several others. I’m convinced our readers will have an even better experience because of the newer presses.”
Richard Green, The Press Democrat’s editor and SMI’s chief content officer, said plans already are in the works to create new and highly relevant digital products — including an early-morning sports newsletter — that will deliver key headlines and game stories and scores that may miss the print edition.
“We have an incredibly talented newsroom, and we are seeking ways to make it even larger and better in the months ahead,” he said.
“Our company’s pledge to our readers is that content is king at The Press Democrat. Hard-hitting, fair and fearless journalism focused on local issues is the commodity that will drive our success in the years ahead. I’m excited about the future, our continued investment in the newsroom and what is in store for our deeply valued readers.”