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Detroit newspapers hope fewer days add up to success

Sunday, March 29, 2009 | 6:13 p.m. CDT; updated 7:02 p.m. CDT, Sunday, March 29, 2009

Missing from the doorsteps and driveways of many Michigan homes Monday morning: newspapers.

In a bold but risky move aimed at ensuring their survival in the digital age, The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press are reducing home delivery to the three days a week most popular with advertisers — Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. Slimmed-down newspapers, sold at regular prices, will be available in news racks and convenience stores the other four days.

Dropped publications

Some of the daily newspapers that have reduced publication days since last year:

ARIZONA:

  • Douglas Dispatch — Formerly The Daily Dispatch, went from five to three days a week in August.
  • East Valley Tribune — In January, suburban Phoenix newspaper scaled back from seven days to Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. It also became a free publication delivered to four growing communities, Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert and Queen Creek; Scottsdale and Tempe dropped from delivery zone.

ARKANSAS:

  • Blytheville Courier News — Dropped Mondays.
  • The Daily World, Helena-West Helena — Dropped Thursdays.

CALIFORNIA:

  • The Davis Enterprise — Dropped Mondays.
  • The Gilroy Dispatch — Scaled back last year to Tuesdays and Fridays, instead of five days a week.
  • Hollister Free Lance — Scaled back last year to Tuesdays and Fridays, instead of five days a week. Dropped Fridays later in the year.
  • Palo Alto Daily News — Free newspaper dropped Mondays last year.
  • The Examiner, San Francisco — Reduced home delivery to Thursdays and Sundays, although free newspaper available in news racks on other days.
  • San Mateo Daily News — Free newspaper dropped Tuesdays last year.
  • Daily Sound, Santa Barbara — Free newspaper dropped Mondays in February.
  • Sierra Sun, Truckee — Scaled back in January to Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. It had largely been a weekly until it expanded to twice weekly in 2003 and to five days a week in 2006.
  • Tahoe Daily Tribune, South Lake Tahoe — Scaled back in February to Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, instead of Monday through Friday.
  • Register-Pajaronian, Watsonville — Scaled back in February to Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, from six times a week.

COLORADO:

  • The Aspen Times — Dropped Sundays in January.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:

  • The Washington Examiner — Reduced home delivery to Thursdays and Sundays, although free newspaper available in news racks on other days.
  • The Washington Times — Dropped Saturdays last year.

GEORGIA:

  • Statesboro Herald — After becoming a seven-day daily in 1982, dropped Mondays in January.

IDAHO:

  • Post Register, Idaho Falls — Dropped Mondays in March.
  • Standard Journal, Rexburg — Scaled back in March to Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, dropping Thursdays and Fridays.

ILLINOIS:

  • Benton Evening News — Dropped Saturdays in February.
  • The Carmi Times — Dropped Wednesdays in March.
  • Du Quoin Evening Call — Dropped Saturdays in February.
  • Eldorado Daily Journal — Dropped Saturdays in February.
  • The Courier News, Elgin — Dropped Saturdays and switched to tabloid format in January.
  • The Journal-Standard, Freeport — Dropped Mondays in February.
  • Kane County Chronicle, Geneva — Dropped Mondays and switched to tabloid format in March.
  • The Daily Register, Harrisburg — Dropped Saturdays in February.
  • Star Courier, Kewanee — Dropped Mondays last year.
  • Macomb Journal — Dropped Mondays in January.
  • The Marion Daily Republican — Dropped Saturdays in October.
  • Daily Review Atlas, Monmouth — Dropped Mondays last summer.
  • The Daily Leader, Pontiac — Dropped Fridays.
  • The Daily American, West Frankford — Dropped Saturdays in February.

INDIANA:

  • The Brazil Times — Dropped Tuesdays in January.
  • Banner Graphic, Greencastle — Dropped Tuesdays in January.
  • Daily Reporter, Greenfield — Dropped Fridays in December.
  • Rushville Republican — Dropped Mondays last year.

IOWA:

  • The Daily Nonpareil, Council Bluffs — Dropped Mondays in February.
  • The Courier, Waterloo-Cedar Falls — Dropped Saturdays in January.

KANSAS:

  • Kansas City Kansan — Went entirely online in January after scaling back to two editions a week, from five, last year.
  • The Southwest Times, Liberal — Formerly the Southwest Daily Times, scaled back early last year to Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, dropping Tuesdays and Thursdays. The publisher and many employees left in protest and began the High Plains Daily Leader, printing Sunday through Friday.
  • McPherson Sentinel — Dropped Mondays late last year.
  • The Ottawa Herald — Dropped Fridays in February.
  • Parsons Sun — Dropped Mondays in July.

KENTUCKY:

  • Georgetown News-Graphic — Scaled back in February to Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, instead of Tuesday through Friday and Sunday. The newspaper had increased from three to five days a week in August 2006.
  • Appalachian News-Express, Pikeville — Dropped from five days a week to three days a week in March.

MARYLAND:

  • The Frederick News-Post — Will drop Mondays after this week.

MASSACHUSETTS

  • The Christian Science Monitor — The Boston-based national newspaper's final issue as a daily was Friday. Subscribers should receive the first weekly newspaper as early as this Friday. The Monitor also is starting a daily e-mail newsletter for a separate paid subscription, while maintaining its free Web site.

MICHIGAN:

  • The Ann Arbor News — Ceasing operations in July after 174 years, replaced by a Web-focused AnnArbor.com, which plans printed newspaper on Thursdays and Sundays.
  • The Bay City Times — Will print only on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, instead of seven days, beginning June 1.
  • The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press — Beginning Monday, both papers will reduce home delivery to Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays and produce slimmer editions for sale at newsstands on the other days. Because The News does not publish on Sundays, subscribers will get the Free Press that day.
  • The Flint Journal — Will print only on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, instead of seven days, beginning June 1.
  • The Daily Tribune, Royal Oak — Scaled back late last year to Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, dropping Mondays and Tuesdays.
  • The Saginaw News — Will print only on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, instead of seven days, beginning June 1.

MINNESOTA:

  • The Minnesota Daily, Minneapolis — The University of Minnesota newspaper dropped Fridays in January.

MISSOURI:

  • Columbia Missourian. Dropped Mondays and Saturdays in March.
  • The Hannibal Courier-Post — Dropped Mondays.
  • The Examiner, Independence — Dropped Mondays in January.

NEBRASKA:

  • McCook Daily Gazette — Dropped Saturdays in January.

NEVADA:

  • Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle Standard — Scaled back in October to Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, instead of Tuesday through Sunday.

NEW JERSEY:

  • Burlington County Times, Willingboro — Dropped Saturdays in February.

NEW MEXICO:

  • Las Vegas Optic — Scaled back in March to Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, dropping Tuesday and Thursday editions.

NEW YORK:

  • The Daily Mail, Catskill — Dropped Sundays and Mondays in March.
  • Register-Star, Hudson — Dropped Sundays and Mondays in March.
  • Hoy, New York — The five-day-a-week Spanish-language newspaper went online-only Dec. 31.
  • — Salamanca Press — Scaled back in January to weekly, from five days a week.

NORTH CAROLINA:

  • The Dispatch, Lexington — Dropped Mondays in September.
  • Washington Daily News — Dropped Mondays.

OHIO:

  • Bellevue Gazette — Dropped Mondays in January.
  • Fairborn Daily Herald — Dropped Mondays in November.
  • The Galion Inquirer — Dropped Mondays in September.
  • Greenville Daily Advocate — Dropped Mondays and Tuesdays in January.
  • Times-Gazette, Hillsboro — Dropped Mondays in November.
  • The Madison Press, London — Dropped Mondays in November.
  • Piqua Daily Call — Dropped Tuesdays in February.
  • The Sidney Daily News — Dropped Tuesdays in February.
  • Troy Daily News — Dropped Tuesdays in February.
  • Van Wert Times-Bulletin — Dropped Mondays last fall.
  • Wilmington News Journal — Dropped Mondays in September.
  • The Xenia Daily Gazette — Dropped Mondays in November.

OREGON:

  • Herald and News, Klamath Falls — Dropped Mondays in January.
  • Argus Observer, Ontario — Will drop Mondays after this week.

PENNSYLVANIA:

  • Beaver County Times, Beaver — Dropped Saturdays in February.
  • The Intelligencer, Doylestown — Dropped Saturdays in February.
  • Bucks County Courier Times, Levittown — Dropped Saturdays in February.
  • Herald-Standard, Uniontown — Dropped Saturdays in February.

SOUTH CAROLINA:

  • The Item, Sumter — Dropped Mondays last summer.
  • The Union Daily Times — Dropped Mondays.

TENNESSEE:

  • State Gazette, Dyersburg — Dropped Mondays in February.
  • The Newport Plain Talk — Will scale back to Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays after this Thursday's edition. Newspaper had expanded from three days to five in 1999.
  • Shelbyville Times-Gazette — Dropped Mondays in March.

TEXAS:

  • Mexia News — Formerly The Mexia Daily News, went from five to three days a week in January.

WASHINGTON:

  • Seattle Post-Intelligencer — Ended print publication in March; converted to Internet-only operation with much smaller staff.

WISCONSIN:

  • The Capital Times, Madison — Became a free publication distributed with its larger rival, Wisconsin State Journal, and given away separately at newspaper racks. Scaled back last year from six days a week to twice weekly — a news and opinion edition on Wednesdays and an arts, entertainment and culture edition on Thursdays.
  • Superior Telegram — Formerly The Daily Telegram, scaled back last year to Wednesdays and Fridays, instead of six days.
  • The Freeman, Waukesha — Will drop Mondays after this week.
  • Daily News, West Bend — Will drop Mondays after this week.

VIRGINIA:

  • The Southwest Times, Pulaski — Dropped Mondays in October.

 



The Detroit publishers hope to cut costs significantly, without sacrificing newsroom staff, to survive a recession that has exacerbated losses from ads shifting to the Internet. Millions of dollars in advertising have eroded over the past year in a city and state being hammered by foreclosures, high unemployment and the near-collapse of the auto industry.

More than 80 newspapers in the country, in smaller markets, have dropped at least one publication day since last year. The Christian Science Monitor printed its final daily edition last week. Other newspapers in Maryland, Michigan, Oregon, Tennessee and Wisconsin are on the verge of similar reductions in frequency. A few have gone online-only.

A blend in Detroit

Detroit is trying a hybrid: keeping daily publication, but cutting back on its commitment to serve homes every day.

The newspapers hope that by nurturing their ink-stained legacy, and reaping only partial savings in production and delivery, they can keep enough revenue and staff to grow beyond print and become profitable on the Internet, cell phones and other mobile gadgets.

"They are accelerating greatly the print-to-digital transformation, and they are taking a great chance there," said Ken Doctor, media analyst with Outsell Inc.

The biggest risk is in breaking readers' newspaper habits, he said. If readers realize they can get by without a newspaper at the doorstep four days of the week, they might conclude they don't need it delivered on the other three days. Circulation could drop, and with it, ad revenue.

The Detroit newspapers will still print on the four days they don't deliver to homes. They will sell copies at the same coin-operated locations and retail stores that now carry the newspapers. The newspapers are also arranging to sell them at nursing homes and by mail.

But the News and the Free Press on those four days will be stripped down to about 32 pages. Although some full-size editions currently aren't that much larger, the newspapers will have room for fewer articles, comic strips, stock listings and sports box scores. The Free Press will keep stories short by shunning "jumps," or continuations onto an inside page.

To lure readers, both newspapers have designed new features, including a personal finance page in the News on Mondays.

Trying to protect the newsroom

Jonathan Wolman, editor and publisher of the News, acknowledged the risks in changing readers' relationship to the newspaper. But he said the moves are needed to preserve a vibrant newsroom that can produce compelling stories and attract audiences in print and online.

"No one's done this before, and in that sense, I do believe there's a lot to prove here," he said.

For $12 a month, or $1 to $2 less than the previous monthly rates, home subscribers will be able to get the Free Press delivered Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. Or they can get the News on Thursdays and Fridays and the Free Press on Sundays, because the News does not publish on Sunday.

Those rates come with access to electronic editions, laid out like a regular printed newspaper, for all seven days. Everyone else will be able to see the Detroit newspapers' stories for free online, but not in this format.

Gannett Co. and MediaNews Group Inc. — the two newspaper companies that work in partnership to publish the Detroit newspapers — never considered pulling the plug entirely on print. Even in a recession, many printed editions make money, and the Web sites threatening to replace them generate far less revenue.

"You simply could not support a newspaper newsroom on Internet ad rates today," Wolman said.

Savings from dropping all print

Dave Hunke, publisher of the Free Press and head of the Detroit partnership, would not discuss the newspapers' finances in detail. But, he said the Free Press and the News could have cut costs by about 40 percent by dropping print entirely — a percentage in line with what analysts say other newspapers could also save.

However, that would have cost the newspapers far more in revenue from print circulation and ads, which together represent more than 85 percent of total revenue. Deep staff cuts would follow if such a strategy was pursued.

Instead, not delivering to homes every day will cut costs by about 20 percent. Although the presses will still have to roll, the newspapers will save on paper and ink by printing fewer pages and copies — Detroit officials say they expect circulation to be cut in half on non-delivery days. The newspapers also won't have to pay as much for fuel and delivery staff.

In other words, the newspapers will save only half as much in production and delivery costs as they would have had they stopped printing, but they will keep the bulk of their revenue, as less than 15 percent now comes from online ads.

The newspapers will cut about 215 jobs, or about 10 percent of their work force. But Hunke noted that the moves will avoid "hundreds upon hundreds" of additional layoffs that would have come if the newspapers had done nothing to address their financial woes — or if the publications had stopped printing. Neither newspaper is cutting newsroom staff.

By contrast, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which became an online-only operation this month, is cutting its editorial staff by more than 85 percent and relying heavily on reader contributions.

The impace of a full-page ad

Hunke said Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays accounted for 82 percent of advertising revenue in Detroit. And he estimates that the newspapers will keep more than 90 percent of their ad revenue as advertisers shift some ads from the four days that won't have home delivery to the three days that will. New ones might even come on board for the four limited-edition days, when ad rates will be lower because circulation will be halved.

"Online may allow you more dynamic, deeper levels of interaction and a way for customers to engage immediately ... but the high impact of a full-page print ad cannot be overstated," said Jim Weber, chief marketing officer for Comerica Inc., a bank that plans to keep advertising heavily in the Detroit newspapers.

Amy Shanler, a spokeswoman for Staples Inc., said the office-supplies retailer isn't worried about the cutbacks and plans to continue advertising in Detroit and other markets where newspapers have scaled back. Staples is especially interested in Sunday newspapers, in which it inserts circulars, "and we anticipate papers will still keep this edition due to its traditionally high circulation," Shanler said.

The Gannett-owned Free Press is the nation's 20th largest-selling newspaper on weekdays and sixth-largest on Sundays. Weekday circulation there dropped 7 percent year-over-year to 298,243 in the latest reporting period, while Sunday circulation fell nearly 4 percent to 605,369. Weekday circulation at the News, which is owned by MediaNews, fell 10 percent to 178,280.

Hunke said the newspapers are "prepared to lose some very longtime loyal readers who are just disappointed, angry or this doesn't work for them." But the newspapers add that cancellations over the delivery cuts have been minimal.

Mindful that subscribers, particularly older ones uncomfortable with the Internet, might need help maintaining their news habits on the days the newspapers won't be delivered to homes, the Free Press and the News have been holding Web training sessions for novices.

Bill Foster, 73, attended a session with his wife, Karen, in Van Buren Township. The longtime Free Press subscriber was a bit unsure at first as he navigated a digital edition laid out like a regular printed newspaper. Eventually he managed to search for and find stories about the Detroit Tigers.

Foster acknowledged he will "just have to get used to it."

 

AP Business Writer Jeff Karoub contributed to this story from Detroit.

 

 


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