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After 138 Years, Cedar Rapids Gazette Shifts Newspaper Printing To Des Moines

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Jon S / NS Newsflash
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After 138 years, the Cedar Rapids Gazette will stop printing its paper locally. Executives say the decision was needed in order to keep the newspaper sustainable for years to come.

Tuesday marks the end of an era for the Cedar Rapids Gazette: the newspaper will stop printing locally for the first time in 138 years. Company executives say that outsourcing the printing of the paper is essential in order to preserve its core operation: providing independent news coverage in eastern Iowa.

Many have called the process of putting out a newspaper a “daily miracle.” Every day for the last 138 years, the printing staff of the Gazette made sure that their paper miracle landed in mailboxes and on doorsteps across eastern Iowa.

Tuesday is the last day the paper will roll off of the massive, 442 ton Goss Universal 70 printing press at Color Web Printing on Bowling Street in Cedar Rapids. Starting Wednesday, printing will move to Gannett Publishing in Des Moines.

Daniel Goldstein, CEO of Folience, the parent company that owns both the Gazette and Color Web, says that the decision was precipitated by consolidation across the print industry. Color Web recently lost contracts to print the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier and the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, which are also retooling their operations.

“There’s a great sadness. There’s also a pretty well-stated sensation of relief,” Goldstein said of the feeling among Color Web employees, saying some felt the decision was “inevitable”.

Goldstein says the closure comes as no surprise to the plant’s employees, who can literally feel the erosion of the industry as they assemble the papers printed by the company each day.

“They’ve worked, many of them, night shifts for, as you said, decades. And it’s not the most glamorous job, but they’ve built a community, a family. And I think that’s why they have a lot of sadness."
-Daniel Goldstein, CEO of Folience

“They actually feel everyday how thick each of the papers are, how many inserts there are, how many papers are going through,” Goldstein said. “And so they really do have a very good sense of how their business is doing and they physically would experience the decline of the print industry.”

Goldstein shared his admiration for the printing staff, some of whom have been on the job for 30 years or more, perfecting the science and the art of keeping the massive printing press going.

“They’ve worked, many of them, night shifts for, as you said, decades. And it’s not the most glamorous job, but they’ve built a community, a family. And I think that’s why they have a lot of sadness,” Goldstein said.

Goldstein says it's a testament to the company's model of employee ownership that the workers are leaving with their retirement accounts intact.

Color Web also served as a backup newsroom for the staff of the Gazette in the aftermath of the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho, which devastated Cedar Rapids, leaving the city in the dark for days.

Without electricity or internet, the news team reassembled at the printing facility where a diesel-powered generator kept the press, computer servers and the lights on. Though at times it entailed ferrying thumb drives full of stories back and forth between the paper's Iowa City bureau and the makeshift newsroom, they got the paper out.

Goldstein says the shutdown is “essential” in order to keep the Gazette sustainable for years to come, so it can continue its 138 year legacy of providing independent local news coverage.

“The information dissemination, the free press, the informing the public, that is the role of the Gazette. And while it is very sad to see the printing go elsewhere, that allows us to continue with that business and that public service.”
-Daniel Goldstein, CEO of Folience

“The information dissemination, the free press, the informing the public, that is the role of the Gazette,” Goldstein said. “And while it is very sad to see the printing go elsewhere, that allows us to continue with that business and that public service.”

The change will mean moving up journalists’ deadlines, which may impact coverage of sports events or late-night government meetings, but the paper intends to expand its online presence in response.

Executive Editor Zack Kucharski is assuring subscribers and advertisers that they won’t see interruptions as the printing operations transition to Des Moines.

“When printing moves to Des Moines, nightly trucking, combined with our local distribution team will maintain current production standards for our print readers,” Kucharski said in a written statement. “We remain just as committed to serving the local community as we ever have and are planning some changes that should increase content in some areas of the paper.”

While the printed page was the go-to medium in its era, Goldstein says the consolidation will help the newspaper continue to adapt in the digital age, while sustaining its core operation: the newsroom.

“We are passionate about independently publishing news for eastern Iowa. It’s a pinnacle to freedom, to democracy to have a free press,” he said. “Printing elsewhere allows us to continue that.”