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In a sign of the times, El Paso’s daily newspaper outsources printing to Mexico

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The printing press behind El Paso City Hall that produces the El Paso Times ceases production Monday. Beginning Tuesday, the newspaper will be printed just a few miles away — and across the international boundary in neighboring Ciudad Juárez.

Regionally outsourcing newspaper printing is not uncommon among media outlets, but the decision by Gannett, the company that owns the El Paso Times, is notable in that printing will be moved to Mexico. This is Gannett’s first cross-border move, according to a spokesperson.

There’s no official tracker on how many American papers print in Mexico, but “it’s certainly very rare,” said Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst for the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit research organization and journalism school.

Gannett owns more than 100 newspapers in addition to its flagship publication, USA Today. They include newspapers in Las Cruces, Deming, Silver City, Alamogordo and Ruidoso, New Mexico, which were printed in El Paso. Like El Paso Times, they will now be printed at Paso del Norte Publishing in Juárez, which prints El Diario de Juárez, the city’s main newspaper.

El Paso’s short distance from Juárez enabled this move, said Tom Fullerton, an economics professor at the University of Texas at El Paso. “Transportation delays preclude most other newspapers from even attempting what El Paso Times is in the process of doing,” he said.

U.S. companies outsourcing labor to Northern Mexico is common. Much of the growth of the El Paso-Juárez binational metropolis in the past 60 years is attributed to cross-border trade agreements, such as the Border Industrialization Program of the 1960s, and the North American Free Trade Agreement of the 1990s.

“(Cross-border outsourcing) enables companies to … externalize more peripheral parts of their production process that aren’t what they consider to be their ‘core competencies,’” said Nina Ebner, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas Law School who researches economic development along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The El Diario de Juárez building on Paseo Triunfo de la República, where Paso del Norte Publications prints El Diario de Juárez, El Diario de El Paso and El PM. The El Paso Times will be printed on this press starting Oct. 5. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Transnational arrangements allow companies to “take advantage” of lower wage requirements in Mexico, Ebner said. The Texas minimum wage is more than six times higher than it is in Northern Mexico, where minimum wage workers earn 213.39 pesos a day, or about $10.36.

Gannett did not respond to a question about whether employees at the Juárez facility will be paid less than what the company paid workers in El Paso. The company also declined to say why it is closing the El Paso press.

El Paso Times Executive Editor Tim Archuleta declined to be interviewed for this article.

Printing press jobs tend to be minimum wage jobs on the border, said Diana Fuentes, a former editor at the Del Rio News Herald and the Laredo Morning Times.

“It’s blue collar work, even though I consider it specialized work,” said Fuentes, who is now executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors, a nonprofit that works to improve the quality of investigative reporting. “Wages for Mexican workers are certainly a lot lower than U.S. workers, which is one major reason why it would be less expensive to print in Juárez than El Paso.”

Diana Fuentes

Outsourcing printing also can cut down on utility, maintenance and materials costs that come with operating a printing press.

Fuentes oversaw the Laredo Morning Times in 2009 when Hearst, its parent company, moved printing operations to its San Antonio facility, a 2.5 hour drive away. Some of the challenges that come with outsourcing printing are earlier deadlines and the possibility of delays, she said.

“Because of time (constraints) you end up having to go with earlier deadlines, which means there’s things you can’t get into the paper,” Fuentes said. Digital subscribers end up getting up-to-the-minute information, while print subscribers may not.

“For El Paso to be printing in Juárez, now you’ve got to take into account the line — crossing can take a long time, especially right now during pandemic times,” she said.

The El Paso Times article about the printing move said delivery times would not “significantly change.” Gannett did not respond to questions about possible changes to printing deadlines.

“Where the newspaper is printed does not impact our ability to provide outstanding journalism and service to our readers, advertisers and communities,” a company statement read.

The Fort Bliss Bugle had no delivery issues when it moved printing operations from El Paso to Juárez in 2018, said Susan Laven, president of Laven Publishing, which published the Army post’s now-defunct weekly newspaper. Laven Publishing still prints the monthly Stars and Stripes newspaper for Fort Bliss at Paso del Norte Publishing in Juárez.

“We’ve been very pleased. They will deliver it wherever we need it delivered” to then distribute, Laven said.

Improved printing quality and cost savings factored into the decision to switch from an American to Mexican printer, she said.

The El Paso Times production facility on East Mills Avenue. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Outsourcing printing doesn’t just cut down on production and labor costs. It often leaves media companies with valuable real estate they can sell.

“They usually have a pretty good-sized building … and that’s a way to raise money — to sell that to somebody,” Edmonds, of Poynter, said.

The building that houses the El Paso Times printing press is valued at $4.6 million, according to the El Paso Central Appraisal District’s 2021 property assessment. The city of El Paso purchased the adjacent El Paso Times newsroom and administrative offices to build new City Hall facilities in 2012.

That deal gave the city a right of refusal for the printing press building — exclusive purchase rights for 75 days after Gannett gives notification of a sale price. If the city doesn’t complete a purchase within that timeframe, Gannett can sell to another buyer, but at a price not lower than 90% of the price offered to the city.

Gannett’s spokesperson said it “has yet to be determined” whether the company will sell the building to the city.

In February, Gannett announced it aimed to sell $100-$125 million in “non-core assets” this year to reduce its debt. Gannett borrowed $1 billion when it merged with GateHouse Media in 2019.

“There is no information to share with the public at this time,” city spokesperson Laura Cruz-Acosta said when asked whether the company has notified the city of any plans to sell the facility.

Cover photo: Beginning Oct. 5, the El Paso Times will move printing operations from its East Mills Avenue press to Paso del Norte Publications’ press in Juárez. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Disclosure: El Paso Matters journalists Molly Smith and Elida S. Perez are former El Paso Times employees. CEO Robert Moore was editor of the Times when its then-offices were sold to the city of El Paso in 2012.

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René Kladzyk and Molly Smith

René Kladzyk covers border issues and other topics. Molly Smith reports on K-12 education and other subjects.

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