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USA WEEKEND celebrates its 20th anniversary

Sep 1, 2005 12:00 AM

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Don’t confuse USA WEEKEND with another weekly magazine that features brain teasers and James Brady’s celebrity profiles. That’s Parade, the other big weekend magazine player. USA WEEKEND is probably best known for its “Make a Difference Day” volunteer campaign as well as columnists that include CCN’s Soledad O’Brien, fix-it guru Lou Manfredini and nutritionist Jean Carper. A recent issue featured a back-to-school cover story as well as articles on travel deals, mac-n-cheese recipes, baseball’s Hall of Fame and the Black Eyed Peas. While it might be a new addition to your newspaper, USA WEEKEND is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month. The publication traces its roots to Family Weekly, which Gannett bought in 1985.

Today, the publication reportedly is distributed in more than 600 newspaper markets, where it seen by more than 49 million readers. Over the past 20 years, circulation grew a whopping 75 percent to its current 22.7 million.

Numbers tell the story Since its inception in 1985, USA WEEKEND has been printed rotogravure. The numbers tell the story. From its initial print order of about 14 million copies, the publication grew to its current 25 million. Gravure presses offer the stability required for long runs, as well as the speed required for such a high-volume weekly print and delivery cycle. Gravure also offers excellent reproduction on substrates such as roto news, soft nip and supercalandered stocks.

Initially, USA WEEKEND was printed at three contract print sites. As its circulation steadily climbed upwards, production expanded to a fourth printer. Today, the magazine is printed in Atglen, PA; Dickson, TN; and Mt Morris, IL ( all owned by QuebecorWorld), as well as Reno, NV (an RR Donnelley plant).

While the presses are faster and more automated than ever, some of the most notable changes at USA WEEKEND involve the front-end. Twenty years ago, it wasn’t unusual to receive a paste-up from an advertiser. In the 1980s, USA WEEKEND processed paste-ups and generated film negatives. At the print sites, positives of the pages were simultaneously scanned and engraved onto the printing cylinders. In the early 1990s, gravure printers transitioned to a direct-to-cylinder method. As with offset’s computer-to-plate (CTP) process, film is eliminated—but in this case, a digital file is used to engrave a cylinder.

At the same time, desktop publishing became more widespread and the magazine started building edit pages using Quark, PhotoShop and Illustrator. Shortly after the magazine moved to the direct digital process, the advantage of sending files to the print sites over high speed data lines became clear. The magazine saved days in the prep cycle and speedy transmission allowed for emergency response times that wouldn’t have been conceivable earlier.

USA WEEKEND continues to grow with respect to technology, depending increasingly on quantitative methods to measure the end result, like densitometry and LAB readings. And the magazine looks forward to the advances of the future—improved substrates, laser engraving, soft proofing and Internet data exchange with vendors and customers alike.

From copywriter to director of operations
Laurie LaMon, director of operations for USA WEEKEND Magazine, also is celebrating her 20th anniversary. How did she go from writing copy to overseeing production? Here’s Laurie’s story in her own words: “I was raised in Baltimore, and I always wanted to travel (i.e., leave Baltimore). To that end, I went to Georgetown University in Washington, DC, as a Russian major, with the idea of becoming a translator. Russian, however, proved a worthy adversary, and after two years, I decided to return to my first language—I became an English major.”

Spelling counts
“Armed with this highly impractical degree, I was happy just to make a living. I worked for a political consultant and in a couple of architectural firms doing administrative work. I soon realized regardless of what a great assistant I was, they weren’t going to make me an architect. I decided to move into a field where I could advance. At that time, Gannett was launching USA TODAY and doing a lot of hiring. I still remember being told that I had spelled ‘separately’ correctly on the clerical test. I started at USA TODAY as an assistant in the circulation department.”

“On any start-up, flexibility is a key asset, and I soon found myself working in creative services, as a copywriter. With USA TODAY launching in cities all across the country, we were extremely busy, and I was exposed to a variety of operational and prepress tasks. When Gannett purchased Family Weekly, in 1985, I was brought on board to handle ad trafficking. Family Weekly was re-christened USA WEEKEND, and I was now officially in Sunday magazine production.”

Marketing MBA pays off
“I had really enjoyed working on a start-up, and I liked the newspaper business. I was even more excited about the magazine field. I realized that while my writing and analytical skills were useful, I [needed] more background in business to feel comfortable and credible in my work. I went back to school and earned an MBA in Marketing—something I never thought I would do. In retrospect, I can say the MBA really paid off. There were so many things I learned that made me think, ‘I will never use this in my daily work life,’ and yet sooner or later they were extremely useful. An MBA gives you a standard set of tools for thinking strategically about business, especially if such thinking doesn’t come naturally. Eventually I became production manager at USA WEEKEND and then director of operations.”

We’ve come a long way
“Over the past 20 years, things have changed dramatically for women working in a manufacturing environment. Gannett, even in the early 1980s, was a progressive company, and I worked with a lot of women in sales, circulation and even in production. On the other hand, when I was working with vendors, I was often one of a few—or even the only—female present. It was intimidating. I just had to remember that I knew my product and I could advocate for it. I also had a series of supportive managers who trusted me and gave me room to grow and to make mistakes.”

“Happily, today’s workforce is much more diverse. Some of the vendors who intimidated me 20 years ago are now valued colleagues and equals. But there still is no such thing as a free and easy career path. You still have to bring a lot of yourself to the table. There’s nothing new in this formula: Work hard, know your business, get an education any way you can and cultivate the support of your managers and coworkers.”

Twenty years of weekends really adds up—that’s 75,000 truckloads of magazines. But that’s not all. Over the past two decades, USA WEEKEND has used:

  • More than over 800,000 tons of newsprint (that’s at least 1.7 billion lbs.).
  • 30 million gallons of ink.
  • 84,000 printing cylinders.

Gravure at a glance
Gravure is an intaglio printing process used for publications, catalogs, Sunday newspaper supplements, labels, cartons, packaging, gift-wrap, wall and floor coverings and a variety of precision coating applications. Here’s how it works:

  • The image carrier has the image cut or etched below the surface of the non-image area. On the gravure image carrier (usually a copper cylinder), all the images are screened, creating thousands of tiny cells.
  • During printing, the image carrier is immersed in fluid ink. As the image carrier rotates, ink fills the tiny cells and covers the surface of the cylinder. The surface of the cylinder is wiped with a doctor blade, leaving the non-image area clean while the ink remains in the recessed cells.
  • The substrate is brought into contact with the image carrier with the help of an impression roll. At the point of contact, ink is drawn out of the cells onto the substrate by capillary action.
Source: Gravure Assn. of America (