Sunday, March 15, 2009

Changes at the Monitor

Felice Belman, editor of the Concord Monitor, announced some new changes to the newspaper's look and price this morning: ["An extra quarter, please"].
In the report to readers, she wrote that the Monitor will shrink slightly in size, cut nearly two inches off the width of the newspaper, and publish advertising on the front page. The price at the newsstand will also go up a quarter.
As I noted in a comment on the Monitor's Web site, many newspaper companies, including the one I currently work for, have already made these kinds of changes in order to make ends meet [The company I work for started running ads on the front page of Massachusetts weeklies and dailies back in 2002, the newspapers have gone through at least two width changes, and last year, many weeklies went up to a $1 an edition on the newsstand. That's just one example of similar changes being made by the industry in this region].
While some readers may not like these changes, it is better to cut off the side of the paper than to layoff reporters or editors, who are the bulk of any operation's expenses. With the exception of some newspapers I have seen in upstate New York and Maine, the Monitor is much wider than other area newspapers. There is room to cut and save some money. Readers will get used to the new size very quickly. Advertisements on the front page have been done in many other companies with little to no complaints ... and advertisers love the option. Lastly, the price of everything is going up. Raising the newsstand price may actually increase subscriptions, as more people choose to have the newspaper delivered to save money, instead of paying the higher price. And those folks who can afford the increase or subscription price can always get what they want from reading the newspaper's Web site.
The only drawback to this is that if Web readership grows and print readership drops, the print advertiser, who is paying a premium for marketing, does not benefit. In fact, they lose, which is why many of them are fleeing from newspapers as print circulations drop [even though overall readership, both print and Web, has never been higher]. Of course, this, and the huge amounts of debt big newspaper companies have, are the reasons that most media companies are in dire conditions. No one has figured out a way to successfully keep the business model going if the content is given away for free. Since the Monitor is family owned and operated, there are not the kinds of quarterly pressures put on the company from shareholders. This doesn't mean they are immune from market forces or pressures, as you can see from these changes. It just means that they don't have a slew of bottomfeeders on Wall Street dictating the changes that need to be made.
These are very difficult times for journalism and journalists but extremely critical times for readers. Whatever can be done to save what is truly important - the delivery of news and information to the public - is the best thing. The Monitor seems to be trying to do that with these changes.


Anonymous said...

"Advertisements on the front page have been done in many other companies with little to no complaints..."

Think again. Readers have been complaining with their feet, abandoning newspapers in droves.

Ben Venator said...

There was an article in Time or Newsweek that said this: Journalism is more important than ever. That fact that we read this blog, the fact that there is energy behind the Concord Taxpayers Association, underscores the demand for quality local journalism. The problem with Newspapapers as the distribution system is that it is product that is expensive to produce, the delivery is error prone (and expensive), and as a distinct product the managers do a terrible job of making the paper version special. The notion of fish wrap or bird cage lining is not really a joke, but a practical example about the utility of paper. Well written articles of strictly local interest should only be in the print version, while there are teasers on-line. Except that you actually have to have well-written articles. Instead of free online, have a passcode printed in the paper that gives you a week of online viewing with the purchase of one print edition (maybe a month with the Sunday paper or something like that).

People crave quality journalism and they will use products that have either real utility or they have been convinced have utility. Most papers have done a really bad job on both fronts.