GateHouse shifts design house amid Rockford organizing

Shortly after employees at the Rockford Register Star signed authorization cards seeking representation from the United Media Guild, GateHouse Media announced plans to move its design house from Rockford’s building (upstairs from the newsroom) to a yet-to-be-determined location next year.

This design house and the other in Massachusetts will be replaced by an ambitious-sounding Center for News and Design somewhere in the United States. None of the Rockford design house employees were involved in the current Register Star and Freeport Journal-Standard organizing effort.

Writing on the American Copy Editors Society website, Charles Apple had this take:

“GateHouse Media — which is still in the process of centralizing production for its 280 newspapers in hubs in Rockford, Ill., and Framingham, Mass. — ordered a reverse course of sorts Monday.

“The new plan is to open a new, singular design hub in a location yet to be named, the company announced. All management can say is: The new center “will not be based in an existing GateHouse Media facility.”

“The Rockford ‘Design House’ — which started operating less than a year ago for daily GateHouse papers — will cease operations in late January 2014. The Framingham center — which specialized in weeklies and started operating less than a year ago — will close down next April.

“From what I’m hearing from sources who understandably wish not to be named: The rollout over the past year has not gone as well as expected. It’s not that the front-end system, Saxotech, didn’t work. The system itself worked quite well, I’m told. The problem was the cloud-based nature of the system required more speed than the GateHouse papers and hubs seemed to have access to.

“The result: A glacially slow system, persistent computer freezes and frequent production delays. The rollout was halted in October and never really resumed, I’m told. My sources weren’t able to estimate what percentage of GateHouse papers — 79 dailies, 257 weeklies and 95 “shoppers” — were eventually hubbed and what never made it to hub production.

“All this would seem to explain a paragraph seemingly parachuted into the middle of the official announcement:

On a related note, we are increasingly confident that Saxotech is adjusting to our size and needs and will continue to be our primary vendor.

“This isn’t the first time GateHouse reversed course on its consolidation system. In January 2012, the company announced it would place production hubs in the suburbs of Boston and Chicago. The former was Framingham, of course. But the latter was meant to be corporate headquarters in Downer’s Grove, Ill., west of Chicago.

“Three weeks later, reports surfaced that the daily hub would instead be placed in GateHouse’s large — and fairly empty building — in Rockford, Ill.

“According to the Nieman Journalism Lab, GateHouse was considering going into bankruptcy this year — not surprising, given its $600 million in debt. What is surprising — and disappointing, but all too common these days — is the way management has treated itself. Top executives gave themselves $1.4 million in bonuses last year, reports Randy Turner of the Huffington Post.”

The UMG also represents journalists at the Peoria Journal Star, Pekin Daily Times and the State Journal-Register in Springfield. So we’re hopeful that GateHouse’s ongoing transformation and reorganization leads to much better days ahead for all those employees.

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