Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Another daily newspaper cuts back

Today's announcement that The Post-Standard, the well-regarded daily newspaper in Syracuse, will cut back its print publication schedule from seven days to three in January, may have been a stunner to casual observers, but it shouldn't have been.

The Post-Standard and its sister paper in Harrisburg, Pa., the Patriot-News, a Pulitzer Prize winner in a state capital city, which also is cutting back to three days, are part of the Advance Publications Co. It's the same company that previously announced a three-day-a-week shift at four of its other properties, including the legendary Times-Picayune in New Orleans and three big dailies in Alabama. And Advance's former daily in Ann Arbor, Mich., went to twice a week three years ago.

If there was an element of surprise surrounding the decision in Syracuse it was that The Post-Standard appeared to a uniquely secure large newspaper, sitting there by itself on a perch in Central New York.

But those of us in the business are aware that the days of secure newspapers, large and small, are no more. Drops in circulation and advertising revenue are commonplace and the trend lines offer little encouragement for print.

That's why forward-thinking companies long ago ("long ago" being a relative term in the rapidly changing communications world) began shifting their focus to digital publication.

It's why the Freeman's parent company, the Journal Register Co., has led the way in the digital newspaper universe. Indeed, combined with the giant Media News Group, our companies are now jointly managed by Digital First Media, the second largest newspaper company in the country.

“If we simply maintain the status quo, if we continue to do just what we have been doing — no matter how well we do it — The Post-Standard would face extinction in a matter of years,” said Steve Rogers, the Syracuse publisher and editor.“This is an irreversible trend. We either adjust, or we perish.”

My old friend Mr. Rogers is sounding amazingly like John Paton, my boss at Digital First Media, who's been preaching that message for several years.

So does that mean newspapers like ours also are on the verge of cutting back publication days? Let me be clear, there's nothing imminent planned for the Freeman. For other Digital First Media properties? I'm not aware of any timetables. Surely there must be discussions. How could there not?

Indeed, when (not if) more newspapers go the way of Syracuse, Harrisburg, New Orleans, etc., don't say it caught you by surprise.

Print still holds a lucrative place in the newspaper business (albeit much less so than in the industry's salad days). The future, however, is digital. And it's a future about which most of us are rather optimistic.

In short, the newspaper business isn't going away. It's evolving for the 21st century.
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