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Randy PichtIt’s always fun to see the line in the sand or the fork in the road clearly demonstrated right before your eyes. That’s what happened at the morning sessions on Tuesday at the 2013 Key Executives Mega-Conference. 

The line or the fork: Should newspapers decrease the number of days they publish?

Alan MutterWhether he intended to or not, Alan Mutter, who moderated the first panel of the day, helped illuminate one of the muddles facing the newspaper industry today. Mutter, a consultant and a blogger at “Reflections of a Newsosaur,” saved his most provocative question for the final minute of his session.

Can you foresee a day when you won’t publish seven days a week, he asked. 

Terry Kroeger“No,’’ said Terry Kroeger, publisher of the Omaha World-Herald and president of BH Media, which oversees the 65 or so newspapers owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

This was right in line with 2012 Daily Newspaper Publishers’ Annual Index, which found that 77 percent of publishers had not given serious consideration to dropping one or more days of publication. That research, done at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, found that only 6 percent of publishers had actually dropped any editions in the past year.

Back to Mutter’s question. 

Jim Moroney“Absolutely not,’’ said Jim Moroney, publisher and CEO of the Dallas Morning News, who said in Texas readers have a concise and clear reaction to that kind of suggestion: “You’ll have to pry the newspaper from their dead cold hands.”

Larry Kramer“Well, we might think about going from five to seven,” joked Larry Kramer, president and publisher of USA Today, which publishes five days a week already.

Michael Klingensmith, publisher and CEO of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, agreed with his three colleagues and said his strategy was simple: “Charge more, print all seven.”

Michael KlingensmithGuess who was on the very next panel? I’ll give you a hint. The conference was being held in New Orleans.

You’re correct. Ricky Mathews, president of NOLA Media Group, and Jim Amoss, vice president for content and editor of NOLA Media Group. 

Ricky MathewsAnd guess what they were planning to talk about? That’s right, the decision to decrease the number of days the New Orleans Times-Picayune from 7 to 3. That’s where it seemed to be headed anyway.

But actually Mathews and Amoss did a wonderful job of avoiding the showdown at the Crescent City corral. Mathews explained that the difficult decision was made to avoid “a death by a thousand cuts,” which many other organizations are struggling with now.

Jim AmossIt has also allowed them to accelerate the process of building a newsroom that thinks, plans and executes for digital and print, “repurposing” the content for the newspaper.

“The ability to publish a newspaper without thinking about it all day really frees you up” to do the many digital things that news organizations need to do to survive, said Amoss.

The new publishing schedule hasn’t affected daily circulation numbers. In fact, average daily circulation for the first full quarter since the change was made was up 1 percent, when compared with the previous quarter. Average Sunday circulation for the same period was unchanged.

Mathews said the New Orleans effort is just getting started. “So far, so good,” he said. But this is a book with 50 chapters and right now they’re still in the midst of writing chapter 2. 

Randy Picht  
 
Executive Director




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