Hiott: Trucks from San Antonio will bring changes to print editions

I started as an intern at this paper 25 years ago this month, and when you’re an intern, you’re often given the late night shift, sometimes considered the mayhem beat. Fortunately in Austin a quarter of a century ago, true mayhem was scarce.

So I remember many a slow night when I would duck out of the newsroom and into the pressroom, to quietly watch in awe as the massive printing presses rolled out the early run of the paper. The smell of the ink, the noisy hum of the presses, and that subtle vibration you can feel in parts of the building when those monster machines are running have always served as visceral reminders of what we do.

Starting the week of July 6, though, the Austin American-Statesman that lands on your driveway will be printed in San Antonio and Houston as we begin to wind down press operations at South Congress Avenue and Riverside Drive.

Sending our paper south for printing reflects a changing business model as we continue to trade declining print circulation for increasing digital readership, a trend occurring at regional papers across the country.

Outsourcing printing will give us better control over our costs, especially as our print-only audience shrinks. While outsourcing was a tough decision to make, especially because 100 really good people will lose their jobs, being smart about how we manage our business for the future helps to keep the largest newsroom in Central Texas out gathering the news.

But there will be changes to the coverage that appears in the print edition.

Because subscribers will still get the paper at the same time every morning, print deadlines will be earlier, to allow for a roughly 90-mile drive up Interstate 35 from the new presses.

We won’t make the cutoff for most night sporting events, whether it’s the Major League Baseball All-Star game or the Longhorn football opener against Notre Dame.

Does that mean we won’t cover those events? Not at all.

We’ll be providing more live and breaking coverage than ever on our websites, such as statesman.com and mystatesman.com, and apps such as Statesman Live. But we’ll also be adjusting to a new print coverage cycle.

We’ll find new ways to cover Friday night high school football, for example. In addition to live coverage online, it’ll get a new home in the Sunday Sports edition. And with an extra day to dig into the big plays and trends, we hope that our print report has more depth and appeals to more readers. For late Longhorns games, we’ll be following along with a full report across our digital platforms and unveiling some new multimedia presentations to capture the game online. We will also provide game previews on Saturdays and full analysis and a look ahead to the next game in the Monday paper.

For the sports reporters, sometimes expected to turn around game coverage on a 15-minute deadline after the game ended, this shift means more time to report the story behind the story – how certain calls were made and what actually happened on the sidelines – before it appears in print.

And when we ask readers these days what they’re looking for in the print Statesman, depth and analysis always win out over immediacy. That’s because for many years now, readers have known that the Internet is going to provide the latest breaking news. In print, our readers expect the deeper dive. That focus, including analysis and investigative work, has helped the Statesman win Texas Newspaper of the Year two years running in awards given out by the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors, in a category where we compete against much larger dailies. And we’ll continue to provide that kind of coverage.

We’ll also have some late-breaking news and sports in our Statesman ePaper, the online replica of the print edition with a later deadline. Recently, we were able to use the ePaper to provide subscribers with two additional pages on the nighttime shooting in Charleston, S.C., and we’ll look to do the same on occasion with local events. This fall, we’ll be adding more content to the ePaper on a regular basis to provide subscribers with more value. So if you haven’t registered for your free digital access as a subscriber, it’s worth going to statesman.com/register to take those steps.

It’s a bittersweet time for us in the newsroom. We’re going to miss the people who have worked so hard in the pressroom to help us tell this city’s stories. They’ve been some of our most avid readers and more than once caught embarrassing mistakes before they became ink on a page. And yes, we’ll miss the smell of that ink, the hum of the presses and that subtle vibration in the building. But we also know that even as those things become a distant reminder of a significant time in our industry’s history, we’ll keep doing what we’ve always done, which is informing our readers every way possible.

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