Ask an Expert Questions and Answers

My newspaper’s black isn’t black enough. What do I do?

Question: My black isn’t black enough. That is to say, I wanted to do a fancy-schmancy reverse for my front cover, a film noir look about two detectives who solved a crime, but when the paper came back from the printer the black background was actually quite grayish. I’m told it has something to do with dot gain. The page proof looked sharp on my computer, just not on news print.

Answer: The answer to getting a smooth, crisp, rich black display on newsprint can be very simple or very complicated.

The simple answer: Ask your printer.

The variables of printing on newsprint are numerous. Quality can depend on the weight and brightness of the newsprint, composition of ink, water acidity, plate and blanket quality, number of copies in the run, prepress production and the characteristics of a particular press. Your printer should know her press well enough to give you the proper workflow to achieve the best quality solid black she can print.

The complicated answer: If the printer doesn’t know how to do this, you will have to figure it out yourself.

Tips and guidelines for complicated answer:

  • Your printed product will never look as good as the digital proof, pdf or production page on your computer screen. Your print product is printed on paper with four layers of ink applied on top of each other. Your computer screen projects three colors of light that are pure, intense and directed straight into the human eye. The reflective colors of the printed page will never reproduce the illumination of the screen. Focus on your printed product and keep print samples of color and design treatments that are successful.
  • Don’t expect the products printed on your press to look like the final product of others. You can compare newspapers and ask what you need to do to yield similar results, but another paper’s workflow, standards and capabilities will usually contain significant differences, ones which your printer cannot duplicate. It is similar to cutting cardboard in a straight line. Both scissors and a utility knife will cut, but a utility knife and a metal straightedge will cut straighter and faster. Focus on your printed product and the tools you have to work with.
  • A large, pure 100 percent black area can cause some press challenges. Sometimes it does not look black enough because a portion of the ink has been absorbed into the paper and loses its intensity, cannot be absorbed further and smears on the surface or prints with whitish strands due to a press blanket that is picking up loose fibers from the newsprint. You can try different/better ink, different/better paper or clean the press. If you have no control over the materials that are used in the operation, you may have to be satisfied that your press can only print a dark gray.
  • “Dot gain” refers to how much a halftone dot grows in diameter when printed. Depending on the press, a halftone dot can grow up to 30 percent when printed on newsprint. Some designers achieve a smoother black by selecting 80, 85, 90, or 95 percent black rather than 100 and let the dot gain flood the area uniformly.
  • “Rich black” refers to a black that is composed of cyan, magenta, yellow and sometimes black. It offers a richer, darker black but yields “0” forgiveness for poor registration and will make any reversed type a challenge to print and read. Avoid rich black on newsprint, especially if you are reversing out type.
  • A few designers have found that adding 15 – 30 percent cyan to a 90 – 95 percent black can often yield a darker black. It takes time and consistent prepress and printing to allow for testing, but once you find the right percentages you will have a great approach to use in your page designs.

Whether you are fortunate enough to be successful with the simple solution, or have no other choice than to go experimenting on your own, you should always rely on the knowledge and experience of you printer.

Ask an Expert Questions and Answers Social media

Can I quote a public Facebook post in my story?

Question:  A person posts on a Facebook open forum page he manages about witnessing a fire and how he tried to help. Then stated how the fire department was slow to arrive at the scene. He said he didn't want to be quoted during private messaging, then posts it for everyone to see. Can I use this in my story, saying this is what was posted on Facebook?

Answer:  Legally, yes printing truthful, accurate information in a public place will not lead to any liability.  Particularly if it was posted on an “open forum” (presumably a Facebook page viewable by the general public, not just those invited to participate or closed and available only to friends).

Ethically, that's the reporter's call.  If somebody says “please don¹t use this” and you do the opposite, there should be compelling reasons.  This would certainly need more investigation on your part – this person said that the fire department was slow to arrive, but what was his expertise in judging response times?

Certainly it needs a comment from the fire department.  And perhaps some investigation on fire department response times.


Seeing yourself as a coach for your ad staff

“How am I doing?”

Remember those moments earlier in your life when you may have asked that question or a similar one of a teacher, friend, or confidant? In many instances, those questions were being asked to open a dialogue, and gather some outside information to confirm that your assessment of your current situation was accurate.

In these tough economic times, are you being asked these same questions today by your staff? Do you model and encourage your staff to ASK (Always Seeking Knowledge)? How are they doing, coach?

Coaching conversations with your staff help develop teamwork. Fostering an “asking” rather than “telling” environment will give support and encouragement to your team.

Coaching is not talking to your staff.  It’s a two-way dialogue looking at performance, identifying performance obstacles or problems, and developing solutions and action steps.

Coaching helps to clarify goals and priorities.  It minimizes misunderstandings and builds teamwork through involvement in planning, problem solving, and increased responsibilities. And it develops creativity and innovation while enhancing productivity.

Everyone – veterans and rookies alike –benefits from coaching as you open a dialogue that involves three action components: listening, asking and feedback.

Preliminaries are typically icebreaker in nature and help to put individuals at ease. They also open the conversation to a give-and-take by identifying the reason or goal for the meeting.

Probing asking works to narrow the focus, review the situation, identify the problem and its potential impacts. It elicits input and ideas and encourages staff to develop, innovate and review various solutions.

Feedback helps clarify new learning, develop and gain consensus on needed action steps and reinforce support of the plan.

Coaching calls for personal contact.  The newspaper business is time demanding, and our personal contact with the staff can suffer – but it’s vital to good management.

Personal contact conveys a sense of importance and a sense of identity (“Congratulations on your sale to……..”) It gives us the chance for positive reinforcement and individual motivation.

Coaching affords you the opportunity to listen, and foster an atmosphere of open communication. Your people are not the only ones to benefit from coaching — you also get the benefit of free information that helps build your team.

Coaching gives your people a regular barometer on their progress, and in some cases, may break their job into various components for reflection, review, revision, and growth. Most importantly, it gives emotional support and reinforces the importance of the individual to both you your team.

As the coach, you are the leader. Your staff watches how you work with each team member and the team as a whole. When you see yourself as a coach, you are teaching your add staff to coach their clients – to get to know them, to understand their problems, and to design ad campaign that meet their needs and build their businesses.  Consultative selling is built on a coaching philosophy – and we can hardly ask our staff to adopt that methodology if we aren’t using it with them.

Ask an Expert Questions and Answers

Is my city councilman forbidden by law from talking about executive sessions?

Question: I asked a city councilman what he and the rest of the board discussed in closed-door session (executive session). He said he could not by law comment, that the law prevented him from disclosing what was said. I told him that he could comment and that there was no law preventing him from telling me what was discussed as per the Texas Attorney General Opinion on the matter. Am I wrong? Has something changed?

Answer:  No. You’re not wrong. The city councilman was misinformed. The records of what happened may be closed, but individuals in the meeting are free to disclose what happened. There are some privacy issues to consider if the topic of the meeting was a personnel issue, but to ban a participant from talking about the meeting would violate the First Amendment.