Webinar takeaways: How Singapore Press Holdings, NYT reorganised their print production

The COVID-19 crisis has forced newspaper publishers to make changes to how they operate their print production. Most have adopted preventive measures to ensure continuous production and distribution of newspapers.

More than 80 participants joined Wednesday's webinar on “How to better organise print production in the backdrop of COVID-19” to understand how two major publishers – Singapore Press Holdings and The New York Times – have been doing it. Lim Swee Yeow, Senior Vice President, Singapore Press Holdings and Todd Socia, Senior Vice President, Print Products & Services, New York Times, were the speakers. The webinar was moderated by World Printers Forum Director Ingi Olafsson.

The situation in Singapore (Home to Singapore Press Holdings)

  • The first COVID-19 case in Singapore was reported on 23 January.

  • This was during the Chinese New Year period, which meant a lot of people were traveling.

  • The government had set up a task force one day before the first case was reported. An orange alert was raised. 

Planning and precautions 

  • With the alert being raised, the team started planning split-plant and split-shift operations and deployed it by 14 February.

  • On 18 March a lockdown in Malaysia was announced.

  • SPH had several of its staff commuting daily between Malaysia and Singapore.

  • The lockdown meant many of the staff wouldn’t be able to come.

  • Those who came to work from Malaysia were given accommodation by the company in Singapore. 

Split-plant operation

  • SPH has two printing facilities within the same location that work from 6 pm to 6 am to print newspapers.

  • The split-plant operation was planned to create physical distance between staff so as to minimise their exposure to the virus.

  • Thus in the event of one team being quarantined due to virus exposure, the other team could take over and damage could be minimised.

  • The plants were split into blue and orange teams. 

  • New shift hours were implemented so that those from one printing plant do not run into the other team while coming or leaving.

  • Working hours at one plant would start at 5:30 pm and end at 5:30 am. At the other plant, the working hours would be 6 pm to 6 am. 

  • Each plant was also separated into the press, mailroom and loading bay. 

  • Staff from the three areas are physically separated. 

  • Areas such as transport, carpark, locker rooms, pantries and smoking areas are also separated. 

  • When off duty, staff have been advised to maintain social distance

Guidelines and communication to the staff

  • In Singapore, the government has issued two directives

  • One – usual quarantine order whereby an individual is isolated and has to stay at a government facility or hospital. 

  • Two – stay home notice whereby a person is notified by the government to stay at home for 14 days under monitoring.

  • SPH took an additional precautionary measure by issuing its own Leave of Absence directive

  • It was a buffer precaution to make sure staff in close contact with suspected cases were prevented from coming to work. 

  • Constant communication to staff was deemed essential.

  • Daily communication to staff on new guidelines and new policies to prevent transmission of virus in the workplace. 

  • Staff has been very responsive and cooperative.

  • Health status of staff is monitored daily and those with high temperatures are asked to consult the doctor.

  • No cases of infection in the plant thus far. 

The situation at The New York Times

  • The situation is quite grave in the US with the country recording the highest number of positive cases across the world. 

  • The New York Times (NYT) has 26 printing sites across the country.

  • Apart from the several news bureaus around the country, it also has its corporate office located in New York City, which has become a COVID-19 hotspot; a shared service centre in Norfolk, Virginia; and its College Point printing facility in Flushing, New York. 

Measures at the corporate office and shared centre

  • By late January and early February, the senior NYT leadership started discussing and planning as to how to handle the situation and began the process of remote working and distributed working environment. 

  • The efforts began in earnest by the first week of March.

  • Extensive work from home drills took place for every department. 

  • On 11 March, WHO declared it a pandemic. 

  • On the same day, NYT issued a policy requiring all employees, whose job function allowed, to begin “work from home” effective from 13 March. 

  • Since then, all departments and most employees have been working remotely.

Measures at the College Point printing facility

  • NYT has 26 national print sites spread across the US. 

  • With the exception of the College Point printing facility, all others are contract print relationships. 

  • Most departments and employees at the College Point printing facility cannot work from home.

  • The company developed plans and procedures to try to keep the employees safe and to keep the facility operational

  • Temperature screening is being conducted for every person who enters the facility. 

  • Increased frequency of cleaning and sanitising concentrating on high touch point areas

  • Distributed hand sanitisers and gloves

  • All tours and non-essential visits to the plant have been suspended.

  • Social distancing guidelines have been put in place to eliminate groups and gathering in break rooms, cafeteria and the locker room.

Ensuring distribution and protection of carriers

  • NYT’s nationwide distribution is done by contract distributors. 

  • It has more than 350 home delivery markets across the United States.  

  • The distribution network includes more than 255 home delivery distributors, over 270 wholesalers, more than 185 transportation vendors and over 35,000 carriers who touch the product daily.

  • To protect carriers, distributors have taken several measures, including:

  • increasing the frequency of cleaning the distribution centres 

  • providing gloves and sanitisers

  • staggering the arrival time of carriers to the depots

  • limiting the number of carriers allowed inside distribution centres at a time

  • “grab and go” policies whereby the carrier does not enter the distribution centre, instead the car or truck is loaded for them


  • No staffing related issues so far

  • One employee who tested positive is recovering at home

  • No production or distribution related issues thus far

  • Loss of single copy retail sales due to closing down of airport retailers, major transportation hubs and non essential businesses

  • Readership is strong and there has been no adverse impact on subscription growth.

  • Slowdown in advertisement bookings due to uncertainty in business and closure of retail and non-essential businesses 

Concluding the webinar See Yeow from SPH remarked that the crisis has been a good learning experience.

“One thing that becomes clear from this is that paper is an essential product - be it in printed version or digital version. (Prior to this) readership has been dropping, at least the younger generation has not been reading much in terms of papers. I think these experiences will change some things for some people who will come to see that paper is something they can rely on for information.” - Lim See Yeow, Singapore Press Holdings.

This was part of a series of weekly WAN-IFRA Webinars addressing newspaper production during the COVID-19 crisis. Please check https://events.wan-ifra.org/webinars frequently for upcoming webinars.


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