Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Paper trail

The New York Times narrowed its web width this week. That is to say, the paper is slightly narrower. Most of that space came from the "gutters" and "margins" on which there is no news copy. So the change is neglible vis a vis content. But it is another sign of the times, no pun intended, for newspapers.

The cost of paper -- newsprint, in the vernacular -- is the second biggest expense in most newspaper companies' budgets. Salaries, benefits, etc., are No. 1. As newspaper circulation and advertising revenue has declined, publishers have sought a variety of efficiencies to help ease the burden. In The New York Times' case, it's estimated that millions of dollars will be saved by trimming the width of the paper.

The Freeman already has done this. We cut the web width a couple of years ago to little or no notice from our readers or advertisers. No surprise. It was really not a big deal (except when we paid the bills to our newsprint suppliers). But if you go back a few decades, you'll see the Freeman and other "broadsheet" newspapers were considerably wider than prior to the most recent trims. Given that comparison, there's no denying that the Freeman circa, say 1967, was quite different than the 2007 model. So, yes, the comparative "news hole" has declined.

I was talking about this briefly today with Sue Wittig on WGHQ radio. Sue's rather more conservative than I am, but on this point we agreed: When a business encounters declining revenue, its first instinct is to cut expenses. Government is more likely to boost taxes when it needs to generate more revenue. Yes, the private sector may do some rate hikes to bring in more money. But rarely does business rely solely on the customers to foot the bill.
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