Production Versus Edit: How To Bridge the Gap
Production execs discuss gripes with edit and offer real remedies.
There have always been misunderstandings between production and editorial departments. Maybe it‚Äôs because production doesn‚Äôt see the value in revising an already-late page if a photographer‚Äôs name is spelled incorrectly; maybe, it‚Äôs that some editors are ignorant of the constraints that the printing process‚ÄĒform breaks, ad placement and reproduction quality‚ÄĒput on a production department. Whatever the reason, this publishing Hatfield-McCoy feud can end up wasting time, energy and money if it‚Äôs allowed to get out of hand. Here, two production veterans outline the top gripes that some production departments have with editorial counterparts, and offer actionable solutions for bridging the gap.
Issue: Deadlines fly by with no word from editorial, and production is left to take the hit.
‚ÄúMost production departments are responsible for seeing that the contractual obligations with the printer are met; the first of these is the schedule deadline,‚ÄĚ says Dedra Smith, president of Printmark West, Inc. Missing a deadline can lead to production staying late toward the end of the cycle to make up for delays. ‚ÄúUltimately, we know the deadline‚Äôs coming, and we‚Äôre forced to push up on editorial to get things done,‚ÄĚ says Success Media production manager, Alan Dwelle.
Solution: Interim sign-offs. Smith suggests finding ‚Äúdifferent ways of prioritizing the way editorial works,‚ÄĚ which can ‚Äúbring relief to both departments by closing in forms, for example.‚ÄĚ Prior to joining Printmark West, Smith directed manufacturing for Pactel, Murdoch Magazines and Reed Elsevier, and boasts more than 30 years of experience working to find scheduling solutions. Interim sign-offs, Smith says, not only help keep printers on schedule, but ensure that the production staff meets its deadlines without any contractual consequences (of which, she says, editorial may be completely unaware).
Stories Falling Through
Issue: Editorial decides to kill a story at the last minute with no replacement copy in the can.
Texas-based Success Media is a start up, with monthly issues beginning as recently as the August/September 2008 issue. While the company may not have a long history, it‚Äôs already had its share of production vs. editorial close calls. For an issue this past year, Success planned to feature Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo in an article on the playoff game against the New York Giants. ‚ÄúClearly, that didn‚Äôt work out,‚ÄĚ says Dwelle. The magazine decided to kill this feature. There have been other stories that Success has also decided to kill at the last minute for various reasons.
Solution: Have a back-up plan for top stories. ‚ÄúSometimes there are circumstances that are out of editorial control and are client driven‚ÄĒI understand,‚ÄĚ says Dwelle. But what made the Tony Romo story swap possible‚ÄĒand allowed Dwelle to be so understanding‚ÄĒwas having a replacement feature on tap.
‚ÄúOf course, in terms of the entire cycle, we‚Äôd always like more time to work on the design and the production,‚ÄĚ says Dwelle. ‚ÄúPagination can never be early enough.‚ÄĚ But swapping out stories at the last minute would be a much bigger deal for Dwelle had Success Media‚Äôs editorial team not put this no-fail method in place. While implementing this may involve more forethought and front-end editorial work, the results, as proven by Success Media, are well worth it.
Late Revision Cycles
Issue: ‚ÄúMany editorial decisions that could be made earlier are deferred until page proof,‚ÄĚ says Smith.
When editorial is late, it can require late correction rounds that ultimately compromise the production function of creating final PDFs and releasing the page to the printer on time. Once pages have been released by editorial to production for final output, a good editorial workflow will make almost no corrections at page proof. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a sign of poor management of the internal editorial workflow, because generally, any mistake caught after the page‚Äôs release probably could have been caught further upstream,‚ÄĚ says Smith.
When editorial lateness begins to affect print schedules, a common response is for printers to impose heavy penalties for these late corrections. If a publication is subscriber-based and trying to hit co-mail pools at the printer, failure to make their pool can result in penalties and loss of savings. ‚ÄúAs postage approaches 50 percent of manufacturing costs, the loss of a 7 to 20 percent discount can be a blow to the budget that publishers are unwilling to risk on an ad, much less late editorial,‚ÄĚ says Smith.
Solution: Working farther ahead and imposing interim deadlines for finalizing elements of each page, story, layout and section can open up time to be creative. By managing the more pedestrian stages, such as getting artwork assigned, future features solicited, fact-checking completed, pull-quotes pulled, the focus for both edit and production can be on working to make the publication better overall.
Donnelley Publishing‚Äôs Monetary Incentive
As the former vice president of production at Hanley-Wood, Joanne Harap had the experience of working with Donnelley Publishing to implement an incentive-based program that bridged the gap between departments. This program allowed a fixed number of ‚Äúlate pages‚ÄĚ due much closer to the final press date. This allowed the production manager and the managing editor to communicate better about realistic deadlines. It also involved the publisher in the final decision about missing deadlines. ‚ÄúThe incentive was part of the production budget,‚ÄĚ Harap said. ‚ÄúIf the incentive was lost, it showed up on the bottom line and the publisher was informed ahead of time about the missed deadlines.‚ÄĚ The program, which ran from 2002 through 2005, became a strong metric for the production department as it showed that progress was being made in adhering to schedules for Donnelley‚Äôs 12 to 15 titles. The result? The schedule incentive was met at least 95 percent of the time.