Sunday, May 02, 2010

Urgent: In Louisville, every pub's nightmare is true; catastrophic press failure prevents full Derby run

[Barely 43,000 copies of main news sections were printed]

On what is surely the biggest print run of the year -- the day after Louisville's Kentucky Derby -- The Courier-Journal's six-year-old press conked out amid electrical problems early this morning, preventing the paper from printing all but 43,000 copies. The disaster left 225,000 copies still to run.

Hundreds of thousands of residents and untold numbers of weekend visitors were denied copies of the paper, including a precious 20-page souvenir Derby section. The main A section, plus Metro, Sports and the special section won't be delivered until tomorrow -- assuming the paper gets the press running again today. The paper was only able to deliver pre-printed sections to area homes. I'm told that press technicians have been called in.

Excluding pre-prints, the scheduled run was to be 60 pages in four sections, with 58 four-color pages, one of my readers says.

The C-J estimates that 1.5 million people attend events the week leading up to the Derby; about 200,000 come from outside the metro area. That extra-large audience should have produced big advertising revenue throughout the print edition, and online. It's unclear whether delayed delivery will require make-overs for ads, or significant refunds.

S.O.S. sent to Indianapolis
In a note to readers bannered across its website, the C-J is blaming unspecified electrical problems. A free electronic replica of the newspaper was being made available at

As late as 4 a.m., my reader tells me, the paper was considering asking the C-J's sister paper, The Indianapolis Star, about 115 miles north, to "step up" and help complete the run. That option apparently was pursued.

Update at 1:08 p.m. ET: "Just now told 1st truck of 50K got here,'' the reader says by mobile e-mail. "Also reported xtra 20K or so for street sales scrapped."

Press is relatively new
The press is barely six years old; it went live in summer 2004. But I've been hearing about operational problems for some time, with one union member blaming cuts in the production department, leaving shifts understaffed.

"Maybe if they hadn't laid everyone off, this may not have happened,'' one of my readers told me via Facebook.

Related: Charles Apple critiques today's Derby section photos and design, at Visual Editors blog

Has your site experienced a press or broadcast failure? Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write jimhopkins[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the rail, upper right.

[Image: Newseum]


  1. Isn't Cincy really close, too?

  2. This shows why the hub concept is such a "good" idea. Even a paper with two Gannett publications within easy driving distance of its front door can't get its most important issue of the year printed in any quantity.

    Let's hub everything in the entire chain out so this sort of thing happens more often. I wonder how much this cost the paper in advertising make-goods, etc.

  3. Cincinnati doesn't have the press capacity to run Louisville. Indianapolis is the only press within 2 hours distance that is capable of running the Courier-Journal (including page count and color positions).

    Indianapolis will run the Monday Courier-Journal tonight, before they run the Star, unless by some miracle the press in Louisville is fixed.

    I'm not sure what the person's comments about a hub have anything to do with this. When the problem came up, after midnight, there was no way to get it printed anywhere else in time to get to the carriers.

  4. I think the hub comment means this: If one site prints several papers, and suffers a press problem, then multiple papers are vulnerable.

  5. That press has had electrical problems from the beginning -- what happened today was inevitable. As of now, the press is still down, and Indy Star will probably have to print the Monday morning Courier too.

    Jim -- look at the e-edition paper -- the cover of the Forum section H. It's hilarious, in a sick, sick way. You might want to post a screen grab.

  6. On a lighter note, in this day of targeted ads, the Wal-Mart "Super Saver" front page ad is genius.

  7. You're right: I didn't even notice that!

  8. I'm told TV crews are now interviewing Garson, and he's expected to make a statement at 5 pm ET.

  9. I worked at the CJ we never performed any maintanance or properly fixed anything on the press always put a band aid on problems,This is at least the third time this has happened.

  10. Jim: Thanks. My hub comment was was indeed intended to point out that as we move toward hubs, we will put multiple papers at risk. For instance, if Indy was printing the Louisville, Cincy and Indy papers and it had the massive press failure, all three papers would go down. And you wouldn't be able to turn to Louisville for an emergency save because it would no longer have a press.

    You can have similar problems with merged copy desks. What if a massive power outage causes a copy desk hub to go down. You could lose copyediting abilities at all papers.

    Now, add in the fact that a production hub will never care about the individual papers the way on-site staff do and you can see what a mess this is.

    Will we move forward with them anyway? Sure because they'll save money. Will they make papers even less relevant at a time when they're already struggling? You betcha.

  11. Jim has put a Band-Aid on his lobotomy scar.

    His "Super Saver" points did not allow him the full masking.

  12. Does anyone know the nature of the electrical problem?

  13. Didn't the C-J once have a reciprocal agreement with the Lexington Herald-Leader to print the paper during emergencies? Lexington is a lot closer.

  14. Ellen McKinney, Indianapolis retiree5/03/2010 7:27 PM

    glad to know, as a star alum, that indy's still saving other papers' asses.

    indy came perilously close to disaster itself about 4 or 5 years ago when much of the cci system failed. had it not been for a graphics person with a very powerful laptop, the star would have failed to publish for the first time in a century or so.

    the star also has published despite minor fires, sewer-line explosions, a tornado-like storm that broke windows in the city room and tore up the publisher's office (and more heavily damaged other buildings nearby), and a blizzard that paralyzed the city for 3 days. (the press run was only 8k, but those 8k were distributed to all the downtown hotels, which were full of people trapped by the storm. good times.)


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