Business

Lexington Herald-Leader to be printed in Louisville, will put downtown building on market

The Herald-Leader building at Main Street and Midland Avenue.
The Herald-Leader building at Main Street and Midland Avenue.

The Lexington Herald-Leader announced Monday that it will transfer its printing and packaging operations to Louisville starting in August, and that the company will put its downtown Lexington building on the market.

Gannett Publishing Services in Louisville will begin printing the Herald-Leader beginning Aug. 1.

Lexington Herald-Leader President and Publisher Rufus M. Friday said in a statement that the decision was “an important but difficult one.”

“We remain absolutely committed to providing a high quality print edition to our readers, while also focusing on serving our increasingly growing digital audience,” Friday said.

Because of the move to print the paper in Louisville, 25 full-time and four part-time employees will be laid off.

Though the building at 100 Midland Avenue will be put on the market, the Herald-Leader’s news, advertising, audience and administrative staffs will remain in downtown Lexington.

“The Lexington Herald-Leader has been a proponent of a strong downtown since our company’s birth in 1870 and we remain committed to a home in the city’s vibrant downtown core,” Friday said.

Friday said the company simply does not need as much space as the four-story, 193,000-square-foot Midland Avenue building provides. The company will also no longer use a packaging facility on Fortune Drive.

The Herald-Leader moved into its building at the intersection of Main Street and Midland Avenue in 1980. The Herald-Leader will have 125 employees remaining after the printing change, down from a high of about 550 in the early 2000s.

The company has been leasing out space in the building for several years, and during that time, Friday said he has fielded inquiries from people interested in buying the entire property, which sits opposite Thoroughbred Park at the entrance to the downtown area.

“It’s a prime asset,” he said. “Where can you find the kind of parking we’ve got here?”

For 2016, the Fayette County property valuation administrator assessed the value of the Midland Avenue property at $6.84 million for tax purposes.

A small area of the Herald-Leader’s press was damaged by a fire on June 19, but Friday said plans to begin printing in Louisville were being developed well before then.

“Our presses here are close to 40 years old,” he said, noting that the equipment would have been due for costly upgrades in the future.

Friday said it is more cost effective to print in Louisville, and Gannett’s presses are newer, allowing more flexibility for color printing than the Herald-Leader currently has, which is a benefit for advertisers.

Once printing at Midland Avenue stops, Friday said the press will be dismantled. Some parts may be reused by other papers. “We’ll scrap what we can’t sell,” Friday said.

Joint printing arrangements have become increasingly common within the newspaper industry in recent years. The McClatchy Co., which owns the Herald-Leader, publishes 29 daily newspapers. The Herald-Leader is the 19th to outsource printing, Friday said. Gannett Publishing Services prints the Courier-Journal, as well as the Frankfort State Journal and other papers.

“It’s not unusual for the printing plant to shut down,” said David Thompson, executive director of the Kentucky Press Association. He said Kentucky had 46 printing plants in 1993; once the Herald-Leader shuts down its press, there will be 24.

Thompson said the cost of replacing a press is “exorbitant,” but rather than stopping production, newspaper companies have found a solution in cooperating with others to continue producing a printed product.

“We’ve got basically the same number of newspapers that we have had since the early ‘90s” in Kentucky, Thompson said.

While print circulation has declined, Friday said digital readership “continues to grow extremely rapidly.”

“Digital is the now,” Friday said. “We are a digital company managing a print legacy.”

He told employees that the Herald-Leader remains “the strongest media and digital media company by far in the market. No other local media company can come close to the Herald-Leader’s reach of nearly 500,000 readers across all our platforms in print or digital each week.”

Friday said readers should not notice changes in their service as a result of the move. Deadlines are being moved up to accommodate for the time it will take to drive the papers from Louisville.

Here is the full statement from Herald-Leader President and Publisher Rufus M. Friday:

Lexington Herald-Leader President and Publisher Rufus Friday announced today that the Lexington Herald-Leader is transferring its printing and packaging operations to Gannett Publishing Services, LLC in Louisville, Kentucky, in a move that will focus the Herald-Leader’s resources on its rapidly growing digital news, information and advertising operations.

“As our digital audience continues to grow rapidly, we have made an important yet difficult decision to move our press and packaging operations to Gannett Publishing Services in Louisville,” Friday said. “We remain absolutely committed to providing a high quality print edition to our readers, while also focusing on serving our increasingly growing digital audience.”

Joint printing arrangements are very common in the newspaper industry, and Gannett Publishing Services LLC in Louisville, prints many other papers in Kentucky including the Courier-Journal, the Frankfort State Journal, LEO Weekly, USA Today and various printing for the Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer.

The change will affect 25 full-time and 4 part-time positions in Lexington. The transfer of operations will occur with the August 1 edition of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

“When changes in trends and customer needs affect employees, it’s extremely difficult, and we recognize the significance of this decision,” Friday said. He added that the Lexington Herald-Leader will be in transition over the next five weeks.

“With this change in our building needs, we have also decided to look at disposing of our packaging facility on Fortune Drive and our current office and production facility on Midland Avenue, while exploring new space in downtown Lexington that better meets the needs of a 21st century media company,” Friday said. “The Lexington Herald-Leader has been a proponent of a strong downtown since our company’s birth in 1870 and we remain committed to a home in the city’s vibrant downtown core.”

In announcing the change to employees, Friday said, “We remain the strongest media and digital media company by far in the market. No other local media company can come close to the Herald-Leader’s reach of nearly 500,000 readers across all our platforms in print or digital each week.”

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