Though the economic slowdown has derailed some plans, newspapers across the country have been plunking down big money the last few years on new presses and production plants.
All of which, despite the fears generated by the Internet in the late '90s, represents a vote of confidence in print and paper.
Nationwide, circulation may be declining, and newspaper publishing may be a mature industry, but it's also a large one that generates lots of revenue and profit.
Take 2002, for example. It wasn't a particularly good year for advertising, but the publicly traded newspaper companies managed to bring in average operating profits of 22%, Morton said.
And to protect those profits, companies are willing to make big investments in new presses and printing plants.
Clean, crisp images
Most U.S. newspapers converted to offset printing - the current standard in the industry - years ago. Offset is a technique that yields crisp, clean color images - the sort that have long been the trademark of USA Today.
But while the need to replace obsolete equipment is the driving factor in the is decision to build a new production plant, the move is expected to cut costs and generate additional revenue.
Excluding depreciation expense, operating costs are expected to decrease substantially when in full operation.
Part of the savings will come from labor. With its automation and more efficient design, the new plant doesn't require as many workers.
For example, employees have been driving trucks loaded with paper from a rail siding in the Third Ward to the old pressroom at 333 W. State St. The new printing plant is on a rail spur, eliminating the need to shuttle the tons of paper the company uses daily.
Inside the plant, five automatically guided vehicles ferry the huge rolls of newsprint - each weighs at least 2,400 pounds - to the presses. The robots replace a chain-driven system downtown that halted production when it broke down.
The new, more-automated presses require about 25 fewer operators, said Brian VanHandel, secretary-treasurer of Milwaukee Newspaper & Graphic Communications Union No. 23, which represents pressroom employees.
The cutback is being achieved voluntarily, with departing workers receiving severance packages that include a year's pay with overtime, VanHandel said.
Inserting - the placement of pre-printed advertising inside newspaper sections - has become more efficient.
Previously, for lack of space, the company did inserting at two locations several blocks apart. The new plant consolidates those functions in a single space more than twice as large as the two old areas combined.
Narrower, shorter format
On the old presses, 1,000 copies of a given day's newspaper typically had to be printed before the quality was good enough to deliver to readers. On the new presses, the discard rate is about 375 copies.
More noticeably, the paper is smaller. The change slices an inch off the width and a bit more than an inch from the length of each page. That should reduce newsprint consumption by at least 10%.
Newsprint typically represents 15% to 25% of total costs at larger papers, Morton said.
Surveys at other papers have shown that readers like the narrower format better, Spore said.
Color boosts sales
With the new presses, newspapers will be able to print color on more than twice the number of pages the old equipment allowed. That will enrich presentation of photographs and graphics. It also could boost advertising sales - which account for the great majority of newspaper revenue.
The Des Moines Register saw a dramatic jump in color advertising, and growth in retail advertising overall, after converting from letterpress to offset presses in 2000.
At the Dayton Daily News, color ad revenue doubled the year after the paper opened its new printing plant, said Mark Stange, vice president of advertising.
Many newspapers with new equipment also branch into commercial printing.