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Associated Press , Published November 20 2013

Star Tribune to start printing Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS — The Star Tribune will begin printing its cross-town rival, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, starting in early 2014, the companies announced Wednesday.

Star Tribune CEO Mike Klingensmith said the agreement with Digital First Media, parent company of the Pioneer Press, is a significant expansion of the Star Tribune's commercial business and an important new revenue source.

The Pioneer Press, meanwhile, will close its St. Paul printing facility and lay off the plant's nearly 170 full- and part-time employees.

"This printing contract with Digital First helps us expand that business model into commercial printing, diversifies our revenue, and strengthens our bottom line without compromising the schedules, journalistic integrity, or quality of the Star Tribune," Klingensmith said in a statement. "We're also pleased to be preserving more journalistic voices in our market, a principle that we fully support."

Pioneer Press publisher Guy Gilmore said the changes will not affect the content or delivery of the newspaper, but will improve its color quality and color capacity.

Gilmore said that consolidating printing operations among papers in close proximity is a national trend. He said it does not represent the first step in a merger of the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune, the Twin Cities' two dominant metro newspapers.

Newspaper analyst Ken Doctor told the Star Tribune in an interview Wednesday that the joint printing operation makes economic sense.

"As a newspaper publisher, the choice is to be in the printing business or get out of the printing business," Doctor said. "If you own a press, you want to use it as a profit center and make money, not as a cost center."

Terms of the five-year contract were not disclosed, but Gilmore said it includes a three-year extension option.

The transition will start in mid-January and is expected to take more than a month.

Gilmore estimates it will take up to a year to decommission the St. Paul plant and prepare it for use by a new occupant, the Pioneer Press reported.

The downtown St. Paul headquarters of the Pioneer Press also is up for sale.

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