It is 5:15 a.m. on a Sunday, and Eugenia Estes’ phone starts buzzing. Emergency responders’ radio traffic says there’s a house on fire with two small children trapped inside, and she is The Greeneville Sun reporter assigned to cover all the news that happens through the weekend.
Within an hour, she will have traveled the distance from her home on one end of the county to the incident scene on the other. It is somber, saddening and stressful, not “exciting” or “juicy” as news reporting is often portrayed in movies or TV.
The early morning alert has launched a long day of observing and talking with first responders, waiting on details to trickle out from official sources, writing and updating the newspaper’s website ahead of the next day’s printed edition.
While every story and situation is unique to itself, for those working in a news organization, every day has the potential to start like this, and no two days are exactly alike.
Beyond making it business to stay in-the-know in the community 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week, what it takes to produce a printed newspaper from start to end is an intricate feat of design and manufacturing unlike any other industry.
Each day, a new product — roughly the amount of page space and word count as a paperback novel — is designed from start to finish, physically manufactured and delivered direct to the customer.
There are a lot of “moving parts” in the process and it takes a skilled, committed staff and dozens of independent contractors to pull it off.
BREAKING THE NEWS
When breaking news happens, it’s important to get all facts that can be confirmed on the record before the community’s rumor mill begins churning. In the “social media age,” words travel fast, whether they’re true or not.
When the news is life-or-death, and especially when children are involved, handling the story is a task no reporter or editor takes pleasure in, no matter how many people will read it.
It’s an obligation and a duty seriously taken.
“Any time something happens — if it’s a car crash, a homicide, a school going on lockdown, a fire in a neighborhood — due to human nature, people want to know what’s going on. It’s how we’re created. It’s how we’re wired,” Sun Editor Michael Reneau said. “So, any time something happens, there’s a vacuum of information. People will fill that vacuum — with things that are not true, rumors, innuendo, half-truths, embellishments, etc. Or, they will fill that vacuum with the truth. Our job is to get the truth out there as best we can.”
Often, details of significant news stories are unpleasant, particularly when read by those closest to affected parties, like families of victims in a fatal wreck or homicide.
“I think with situations like that, having more information is almost always, nine times out of 10 if not more, beneficial to the public,” Reneau said. “Even though that’s painful for some people or it comes off as insensitive, the fact that someone was not wearing a seatbelt in a car crash or the fact that someone was not wearing a helmet in a motorcycle wreck or the fact that a crash was really gruesome — if people can understand how high the stakes are, hopefully they will change how they act, or it can at least influence their thinking the next time they’re in a situation like that.”
FREE PRESS, JUDGMENT REQUIRED
Protected by the U.S. Constitution, apart from malicious intent — slander and libel intended to cause harm, which are different from mistakes that are part of human nature — the press is free, meaning, in general, the the reports it produces are not determined as much by official “rules” and “policies” as they are by judgment. The Sun’s own internal procedures focus on consistency — using all the details contained in law enforcement’s crash or incident report narratives, rather than cherry-picking certain facts and ignoring others, for example.
“We don’t make up ‘the rules’ as we go along. We try to be as consistent as we possibly can in how we treat all of those stories. But sometimes there are circumstances that mean we have to make tough judgment calls, and we often don’t have a lot of time to make those tough judgment calls,” Reneau said. “We try to do the best we can in getting information out to readers and be sensitive to people who may be hurt once that information is made public.”
The overall philosophy is: “the more information, the better.”
GreenevilleSun.com — where all content from each day’s edition is viewable — also provides an outlet to update readers in real-time on what’s happening in their community. It also allows readers to view even more content than the print edition allows — such as additional photos, videos and public documents.
It all serves the purpose of delivering true and accurate information to the public.
“I believe that any time that things that are not the truth are spread or perpetuated, it’s harmful. That’s why I got into this business, because people need to know the truth, even in situations where it seems like it doesn’t matter — a car crash without a seatbelt, roads being wet or dry, someone falling asleep at the wheel versus whether they were intoxicated,” Reneau said. “People are going to talk about it no matter what, so it’s going to be truth or not truth.”
So how is the news gathered? It comes from a variety of sources.
Emergency officials’ radio communications are monitored by a digital scanner in the newsroom and via applications on writers’ smartphones.
Many sources are routine and communicate with Sun staff on a regular basis. Others circulate to various members of the newspaper’s staff — news staff and not — through word-of-mouth or social media. Some others come as tips from readers or people who have witnessed something or otherwise have information to share.
Calls from the public about events and other information often result in articles and photos printed in the Sun’s pages. The Sun encourages readers to call in or email story tips and ideas and to confirm that the staff is aware of something happening.
“Don’t assume that we know something is going on just because we’re the newspaper,” Reneau said. “If no one’s told us about it, we don’t know about it. So, please, let us know. Call the newsroom.”
NEWSPAPER GROWING, NOT ‘DYING’
In the future, as the technology used to consume news every day continues to change — just as it has for decades already, leading many people to regurgitate an old adage “newspapers are dying” — there’s one thing print journalists remain committed to: putting it all on the record in as permanent a manner as possible.
With a combination of physically printed and digitally published products, The Greeneville Sun’s audience is larger at present than at any other point in the Sun’s 140-year history.
It is Advertising Director Artie Wehenkel’s job to know how far the newspaper’s messages — and in particular, its advertisements — travel.
“We’re now reaching the largest audience we’ve ever been able to reach with The Greeneville Sun, Greene County’s Accent and GreenevilleSun.com. We’re delivering more ads to more people than we’ve ever been able to in the history of the newspaper,” Wehenkel said. “That debunks this thing that ‘the newspaper is dying.’ The newspaper is not dying. It’s morphing into a different thing, and our audience is growing.”
While the Sun’s newsroom focuses on what’s happening in the community, sales staff are connecting with businesses and service providers to determine how they can best promote what they have to offer local consumers.
“One of the services we offer for our clients is what’s known as Pulse Research. The AdSeller software that we use is a survey conducted of Greene County — our market, not national, state or regional figures, but people in Greene County who told us what they plan to do in the next 6 months: what they plan to spend their money on, how they plan to spend it and what they use when making their decisions,” Wehenkel said. “That’s a free service we provide for anybody who wants to think about advertising in our market. We update that twice a year. We have the most current and complete marketing information there is in Greene County, and no one else has what we have.”
What the Sun also has, Wehenkel said, is a list of services many are unaware of but that rival public relations and marketing firms in large cities.
“We have a full graphic arts service the same as most large-city agencies. We not only have the ability to create advertising, we can create logos and print ads and digital ads for internet.”
The Sun also serves as an alternate delivery method for advertisers.
“We can deliver to households in our market area for less than half of what it costs to do direct mail, and we guarantee the day you want it delivered. It’s not a four-day window like bulk mail is. If you want it in-house on a Monday before an election day Tuesday, it’s going to be there,” he said.
THE NITTY GRITTY
Getting each day’s newspaper delivered is a massive task organized by Printing and Distribution Diector Dale Long, who is also in charge of all the press’s operations, like print schedules and logistics and packaging.
He organizes a fleet of more than 40 independent contractors who drive 60 routes that total 2,400 miles six out of seven days each week.
“Our goal is to try to have all the papers delivered by 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. Saturday. But a lot of things determine whether we accomplish that or not,” Long said. “We receive our pages, most cases, paginated through (an Adams Publishing Group design hub in) Boone, North Carolina, and several steps have to be accomplished before we receive those — in advertising, the newsroom and the pagination department.”
Advertising and newsroom deadlines are critical in those cases to ensure advertisers have sufficient time to proofread and submit changes to their paid advertisements before they are published and to ensure newsroom staff can read through stories multiple times in search of typographical or content errors.
“In some cases, meeting those deadlines is almost impossible — not just because of that, but because we could have mechanical problems with the press,” Long said. “We have a machine that laser burns the imagines onto the (metal press) plates. That’s got to work properly. The press has got to operate without any glitches. There are a lot of variables there, as there is in any manufacturing business.”
Ultimately, that’s what The Greeneville Sun is, Long said.
“We are a manufacturing facility at 121 W. Summer St.”
Once the news and advertising departments have finished creating their content, files are sent to the North Carolina design hub for pages to be designed. Those are then sent as digital files back to Greeneville, where the Sun’s pre-press room prepares them for the press, burns the plates that will transfer the ink to paper, attaches them to cylinders on the press and ensures paper and ink are loaded.
Black ink is pumped into the press by the truckload. Cyan, magenta and yellow ink are loaded from 30-pound kits with a putty knife.
All those factors are just a sampling of things that have to happen in a short period of time to ensure the product is as high quality as it can be — and on time — each day.
Coming off the press, the paper is automatically cut, collated, folded and transported by conveyor belt to the packaging department. A stacker lays papers in neat stacks to handle for packaging. If advertisers have purchased inserts, the Sun is run through a machine so coupons and promotional materials can be stuffed inside.
From there, bundles of completed papers are matched up with the proper amount for each independent contractor’s delivery route. They load up their vehicles and begin vending routes — like vending boxes and convenience stores — and home deliveries.
Circulation Department staff handle customer payments and other needs, like customer service with the e-edition — where readers can view the a digital edition as they would a print edition — or if a delivery is missed.
Thousands of homes receive the paper each day. On average, about five will have a complaint of a paper not received on time or at all.
“That’s not too bad, but if it’s you as a customer, it’s bad,” Long said. “We try to offer same-day redelivery if we are notified by 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and by 9 a.m. Saturday.”
“We have about six hours for 40-45 independent contractors to deliver and drive approximately 2,400 miles per day,” Long said. A newspaper filled with content produced over the course of the morning and previous afternoon is printed and packaged within an hour and delivered countywide in just six more.
But by the time the Sun’s subscribers receive that day’s edition, staff at the newspaper have turned their attention to the next day’s edition, and the process starts all over again.