The Stars and Stripes newspaper press in Griesheim, Germany.

The Stars and Stripes newspaper press in Griesheim, Germany. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

GRIESHEIM, Germany — Stars and Stripes is turning over the printing of its daily newspaper in Germany to an outside contractor.

After more than 55 years of printing the news, the paper will shut down its print plant that serves troops in Germany and some other parts of Europe by Feb. 8. Printing of the paper will be assumed by Frankfurt-area contractor Hurriyet, a subsidiary of the Turkish Dogan Group. Hurriyet will replace Stripes’ production staff of about 40 employees.

“The reader shouldn’t notice anything, either in delivery time or content,” Publisher Thomas Kelsch said Thursday.

Kelsch told newspaper employees during meetings this week that while circulation in places such as the Middle East has been on the rise, copies sold in its once-core market of Germany have plummeted.

He attributed the drop to the drawdown of troops that began in the early ’90s and, more recently, the deployment of Germany-based troops to the Middle East.

“The problem with that low circulation as it relates to this operation is that so many of our costs are fixed,” said Kelsch, reading from a statement. “It takes approximately the same number of people to run the presses whether we’re printing 100,000 copies or 10,000 copies. Eventually, it reaches the stage where it simply is not economically feasible to maintain our own press and staff for such a small press run.”

According to Stripes’ circulation department, the European and Middle East editions print about 79,000 copies per day. Including the Pacific edition brings the newspaper’s total circulation near 94,000 copies per day.

Remote print sites and contractors already operate in Kuwait, South Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan and Italy, leaving the daily output of the Griesheim plant around 20,000 copies. About 10,000 paid copies go to the shrinking German readership, and the rest to Belgium, Britain, the Balkans, the Netherlands and several smaller markets.

The current Stripes press was installed in 1996, but the facility has been in use since Sept. 27, 1949. The paper had continuously printed throughout World War II, but didn’t move into its current European headquarters until a few years later.

The timing of the closure shocked press employees, who today are split about evenly between Americans and Germans. Many Americans were part-time workers, Kelsch said, while the Germans tended to be career employees. There had long been talk of layoffs and a closed press, but workers were shocked at the announcement’s timing.

“It’s been out there for over a year. Of course they informed us, but the timeline kept changing,” said Astrid Herbert, head of the Stripes’ work council. “That’s been very hard on the employees. ... The real problem is that we have a work force where people have been employed for 20, 25 years — at least.”

Kelsch said he regretted the decision, but said he believed there was no alternative.

“I feel very strongly that these workers who are long serving, 20-plus years, they’ve been so valuable to us that it’s really been painful to reach the end of the road with them.”

He said that the production workers would receive “everything you are entitled to” in terms of severance.

He said there would be no effect on other departments of the newspaper.

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