The things that go wrong at your papers at 1:00 in the morning are almost beyond comprehension. One of this year’s nominees saved the life of a coworker who suffered a heart attack while on the job. Another one doubles as a copy editor, regularly catching errors before the paper goes to press. Several said they make sure to keep good relationships with the neighborhood electrician, handyman, and plumber so that they can always make a late-night call when help is needed.
As usual with our recognition features, determining the top All-Stars was a difficult feat, mostly because the production manager’s job is so critical to a paper’s operations. In a job whose description calls for mechanical skills, computer smarts, strong management ability, obsessive levels of organization, and complete disregard for being home in time for dinner, it’s not surprising to read phrases such as, “he saves our butts every day,” and “he can fix a press and a computer in the same day, and often does.”
Tablets, apps, and social media may be dominating the conversation in many corners of the industry, but print’s not dead — far from it. Publishers from across the country shared with us the many ways their production crew is actually bringing in additional revenue, from commercial printing business to creative partnerships with other nearby papers.
It also seems that production departments have been hit particularly hard by the staff reductions that so many papers have had to rely on to get their financials back in order. Many nominees were commended by their superiors for the transparency and professionalism with which they handled such situations. The effect of layoffs was intensified in some of the smaller markets we heard from, where letting go of one person can mean as much as a 30 percent reduction in staff. Doing less with more is a top requirement of today’s production professionals, and our all-stars have all risen to the challenge.
Across the board, your production and mailroom managers were described as being cool and level-headed. One was nominated based solely on his ability to remain courteous to other employees when under pressure from deadlines. Another nominee periodically pretends to get hopping mad about some issue and makes a point of demonstrating this faux-anger within earshot of all the mailroom employees — just to keep them on their toes. It might not be one of the seven habits of highly effective people, but it’s a strategy at least one publisher swears by.
I was also impressed by the diversity of entries we received. A full third of nominees are women, showing that the gender gap in newspaper management, while still present, is at least shrinking. Age was also a diverse characteristic of our nominees. One production manager is 81-years-old and says that he wants to slow down, but because the newspaper industry is changing so rapidly, he still finds the work fascinating and exciting. He’s even learning InDesign.
For 2013, we have chosen to recognize five production all-stars who demonstrate leadership, flexibility, and reliability. Read their stories here.