An impending move that will relocate San Antonio Express-News reporters and editors to a building once owned by its former competitor also brings an end to local production of the newspaper.

The New York-based Hearst Corp., which publishes the Express-News, announced recently that the newspaper is moving one block away from its historic building at 301 Ave. E to the renovated offices of the now-defunct San Antonio Light. It will take over two floors of the Light building at 420 Broadway St.

The newspaper’s print production, however, will transition in January from the Express-News building nearly 200 miles east to the Hearst-owned newspaper facility that publishes the Houston Chronicle. Portions of the San Antonio paper are already produced there. 

The staff relocation is scheduled for the first quarter of next year. Hearst also plans to increase newsroom staffing by 10 percent in 2021.

A move by the Express-News has been in the works since at least May 2019, when Hearst put the newspaper’s art deco building on the market. No buyer has been announced for the building, which has five stories topped by a three-story cupola. 

Hearst acquired the San Antonio Light in 1924 and shuttered it in 1993, but used the buildings to house some Express-News staff until 2012, after which it remained vacant. In 2016, local developer GrayStreet Partners purchased the Light building, its annex print building, and parking lots. 

The Light building was purchased by GrayStreet Partners in 2016 and has undergone extensive restoration. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Since then, restoration of the ornate 1931 Spanish Colonial Revival building has been ongoing, with 140,000 square feet of its Class A office space intended for use by the first tenant, architecture firm Ford, Powell & Carson.

The Express-News staff will occupy 22,000 square feet on two floors of the building.

Express-News Publisher Mark Medici did not immediately respond to a request for comment but said in a report that the move will reduce operating expenses by 50 percent, compared with staying in the Express-News building.

The report also stated that 62 employees recently accepted voluntary buyouts – severances to leave their jobs – which includes 11 editorial staff and 36 print production workers. Ten employees who did not apply for voluntary separation packages are eligible for positions in Houston or the newspaper’s distribution jobs in San Antonio. 

With the move to the Light building, a major newspaper will no longer be printed in San Antonio. Transitioning production to Houston is no doubt a cost-saving measure, said Mary Van Meter, editor-in-chief & publisher of News & Tech, which began tracking newspaper plant closings in 2004. 

“It is a trend that has been accelerating this year – to consolidate printing,” she said, pointing to the coronavirus pandemic as the latest culprit for declining advertising revenues. Printing presses are expensive to upgrade and maintain, and a great number of newspapers are looking for ways to reduce that cost. 

One of the most recent consolidations, announced in October, is occurring at the Philadelphia Inquirer, which is moving print production to a New Jersey operation owned by publisher Gannett. The newspaper called it an effort at “survival.” Up to 500 people will lose their jobs as a result.

On the plus side for San Antonio, Van Meter said, is that Houston’s printing equipment might provide the Express-News with more color capabilities and printing capacity.

But the presses are a three-hour drive from San Antonio, a significant travel time that could force earlier deadlines on reporters when it comes to print stories, said Van Meter, or more local coverage will be published online where a growing number of consumers get their news. In addition to the printed paper, the Express-News operates online at its websites, MySanAntonio.com and ExpressNews.com.

Hearst has said delivery times to homes and offices in San Antonio won’t be affected. And in a report about the move, Medici said, “This does not impact our commitment to the printed product. We are very committed to putting out a world-class newspaper. 

Moving production out of downtown San Antonio also frees up a valuable asset for an organization like Hearst. “Downtown real estate is worth a lot of money,” Van Meter said. 

Situated in a city block at the corner of Avenue E and Third Street, the Express-News building offers 217,000 square feet of Class B office space. It is located one block from the booming lower Broadway corridor.

While no asking price for the 91-year-old building has been disclosed, local tax records appraised the property at $10.5 million. 

As for the printing presses, it was unclear whether the Express-News would relocate or dismantle the machinery, which is more common in recent years. A typical modern press weighs 1,000 tons, and the Express-News has three. 

“We used to [move presses], but now that everybody’s circulations are down, they don’t need extra capacity,” Van Meter said, and the market already is saturated with iron. “A lot of this stuff found its way to fish habitats.”

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the business beat reporter at the San Antonio Report.