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We've all heard — more than enough — that newspapers sealed their fate when they began giving their content away for free online in the ’90s. Our industry has also endured endless “barn door/horse” analogies about efforts to rein that content back in by instituting paywalls.

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One billion dollars in acquisitions in a three-year period seemed like a lofty goal when New Media Investment Group CEO Mike Reed made the proclamation earlier this year, but it appears the company will hit its mark.

In just the past year, the GateHouse Media parent has shelled out approximately $476 million for Stephens Media LLC and its flagship Las Vegas Review-Journal, Halifax Media, the Providence (R.I.) Journal and, most recently, The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch and its Dispatch Printing Co. It’s funded the deals through a mix of new debt, stock sales and operating cash flow.

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When we asked newspapers to talk to us about the steps they’re taking to modernize their newsroom infrastructures, we got a lot of feedback — too much, in fact, to fit into the pages of this issue. But we think that’s a good thing.

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In this special issue we’ve taken a look at some of the most efficient newspaper printing operations in North America. Printers are rising to the challenge and pushing ahead. They’re growing their operations and newspapers are thriving as a result — a fitting theme as we enter spring.

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It’s been awhile since we’ve seen any significant movement in newspaper adoption of digital inkjet printing. Some seven years have elapsed since vendors first wooed us with digital technologies at drupa 2008 and yet reports of newspaper adoption are still few and far between.

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We’ve come to the end of another year, and once again our industry will be holding its collective breath as it determines whether or not advertisers will renew contracts. That coupled with another poor financial quarter for the majority of publishers and more declines in readership (see the latest figures from the Alliance of Audited Media in our page 18 story) could certainly make for an anxiety-ridden holiday season.

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A strange dichotomy exists in newspapers today: For every publisher that ramps up new equipment, several more shutter production plants or are forced make the choice to outsource their printing. We all know the mantra well by now: “Print or be printed.”

That dichotomy was keenly illustrated at Block Communications’ daily newspapers on Sept. 8: While the first issue of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette rolled off the publisher’s new Goss Uniliner press at its new 245,000-square-foot facility in Clinton Commercial Park, the first issue of The Toledo Blade rolled off a press owned by the Detroit Media Partnership in Sterling Heights, Mich.

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We wrapped up this issue on unconventional revenue streams amidst the completion of the spinoff of Tribune Publishing, and the news of Gannett’s decision to make the same move sometime next year. Journal Communications Inc. also decided to separate its newspaper and broadcast interests this summer, announcing plans that include merging its broadcasting operations with E.W. Scripps Co.

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It never fails when I’m traveling to an industry event and someone I encounter in a hotel or airport asks me what I do, that I hear some version of “No one reads the paper anymore — everyone gets their news on their computer or phone.”

My response to these never-ending predictions of print’s demise is generally a comment on the resiliency and inventiveness of this industry and the people in it.

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For the past six-plus years, our industry has been conditioned into survival mode. To say it’s been brutal is an understatement. On the bright side, we aren’t going it alone. And although the newspaper industry employs far fewer people than it did in 2007, it still counts some of the best and brightest minds among its allies — and good things happen when those bright minds convene.

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RJI’s second Publishers Confidence Index survey polled some 400 publishers. Of them, 69 percent said they are optimistic about the future and only 6 percent said they are not. On a five-point scale ranging from “very optimistic” to “not optimistic at all,” nearly one in four, or 24 percent, identified themselves as very optimistic, according to RJI, while about half or 45 percent, said they were somewhat optimistic.

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As much as we advocate for the printed product, there are a few things it can’t do well anymore in the digital world. Olympic coverage is one.

As I write this column, the 2014 Winter Olympics are wrapping up in Sochi, Russia. Admittedly, I haven’t followed the Games as closely as I’d hoped to, and I have heard many friends and colleagues say the same.

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The New Year understandably brings trepidation for publishers, and while some late-year victories are still visible in the rearview mirror (ie: circulation gains and successful new product launches), the anxiety that comes with pondering another year’s survival is never far from our collective minds.

The reality that we know all too well is that some newspapers (and magazines) won’t survive another year. In the U.S. and abroad we see an increasing number of titles folding on a weekly basis — among the most recent of note: 80-year-old Canadian institution the Kamloops Daily News in British Columbia.

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The end of the year always seems the appropriate time to reflect on where we’ve been as an industry and where we’re going in the year ahead.

We all know the lows of the past year — they’re the same ones with which newspapers have become all-too familiar over the past 5-plus years. Still, as 2013 draws to a close — and in spite of the challenges that have become inherent to this industry — I think we can count innovation among the highs for 2013.

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As digitaland mobile content further explode and publishers continue to mull ways to reduce editorial resources while simultaneously sharing content among titles, journalistic checks and balances often suffer, and ethical lines become more easily blurred.

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It’s been a busy month in the newspaper industry. Since the beginning of August, we’ve seen the sales of two major dailies — The Boston Globe and The Washington Post.

One thing is certain: Newspaper ownership looks a lot different than it did five years ago. We saw some stark reminders of that fact as we compiled this Special Issue full of lists and timelines reflecting on our industry. And as we look forward to the Print 13 show in Chicago, and laud the power of the printed product, I can only hope that these latest millionaire-turned-newspaper owners remember what made the titles they’ve acquired great in the first place.

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Change has become the new norm as publishers fight to sustain themselves and return to profitability. It hasn’t been easy, but our industry continues to prove that it’s nothing if not resourceful in its fight to stay alive.

As we reported on the latest print cutbacks at Advance Publications’ papers in Portland and Cleveland, Joe DeLuca’s recent comments to Metro Users Group attendees resonated (see our story on page 28). He said newspapers must stop being “control freaks” and accept relinquishing some control to the reader.

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New Orleans and Columbus, Ohio. Two cities that couldn’t be more different. But two cities that might give the newspaper industry a clear look at where its future may lie.

First off, the Crescent City. NOLA Media Group President and (New Orleans) Times-Picayune Publisher Ricky Mathews last month shed a little light on how well The Times-Picayune’s migration to a digital-centric operation has fared since its conversion last fall, and in his words, “So far so good.”

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The dawning of the New Year always brings with it an expectation of the things to come.

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If anyone needed a reminder of the immense power of print, they received it — in spades — at this year’s Graph Expo and ING meetings.

The show floor at McCormick Place South was packed with people and companies whose main emphasis was ink on paper. From web presses and finishing systems to copy counters and print management software, Graph Expo reflected the strength of a multibillion-dollar marketplace that informs and educates billions of people worldwide.

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Well, if the Mayans are correct, we have about a year to worry about the Internet's impact on the U.S. newspaper industry.

After Dec. 21, 2012, problem solved.

But I'm an optimist, and I'm going to say that we'll be around longer than Dec. 21 and that the newspaper industry will be, too.

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A few days before writing this column, I had a pleasant email exchange with David Sullivan. Sullivan, a copy-editor at a large metro newspaper back East, has been writing his intelligent and insightful blog about the newspaper industry, That's the Press, Baby, for more than three years.

I cite Sullivan not only because I enjoy him, but also for a selfish reason: he enjoys reading News & Tech.

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As the newspaper and commercial printing industries prepare to travel to Chicago for this year's Graph Expo, print is again taking center stage.

As it should.

Even as digital distribution grabs much of the spotlight, newspapers can ill-afford to avert their attention from their printed products. As much as the Internet Advertising Bureau and its allies would like everyone to believe, the real truth is this: Digital advertising alone will never pay the bills of a professional and well-staffed news organization.

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It's becoming distressingly clear that the hoped-for economic recovery isn't happening fast enough to help the newspaper industry.

First-quarter reports from publicly traded newspaper companies were less than encouraging, with a number of major publishers recording losses or severely narrowed operating profits

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Got mobile?

You better.

For newspaper publishers, mobile represents what many hope will be a sustainable, and significant, revenue stream.

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Some day, as one engineer envisions it, a single operator will be able to oversee an entire newspaper production plant, sitting in a transporter that ferries him to where he needs to go on a built-in track that shuttles from system to system.

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Deseret News President and CEO Clark Gilbert rattled quite a few cages with his keynote address before last month's inaugural Multimedia Key Executives Conference in St. Petersburg, Fla.

In a nutshell, Gilbert's message was this: The newspaper industry has another three years to make the changes it needs to make. After that, whatever condition it finds itself in 2014 will likely be where it will remain.

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Interesting times. Two years after the financial explosion and the fallout it left on the U.S. newspaper industry, it appears as if prospects are brightening.