Monday, December 19, 2011

The Monday dilemma

A couple of weeks ago there was a discussion on Facebook about decisions by the Red Bluff Daily News, the Eureka Times-Standard and other daily newspapers to cease publishing their Monday print editions. Some saw it as a defeat for local newspapering, or something that will leave their communities a little less informed, but I'm not so sure.

Today's Record Searchlight is a case in point. In the time it took me to wait for a prescription at the pharmacist this morning, I was able to finish thumbing through both sections of the newspaper. There was one locally generated story about some veterans being honored in Anderson, and the rest of the paper consisted mostly of wire-generated national news and sports, most of which already aired yesterday on Fox News, ESPN and other cable channels. Fortunately, I got home and checked and it had lots of updates from today, many of them local.

I don't know exactly how much it costs to publish an edition of the paper the size of the Record Searchlight each day, but I do know it's expensive when you add up the cost of the paper, the newsprint, the electricity to run the presses, wear and tear on the presses, man-hours in the backshop, etc., etc. When the end product is a bunch of national news that aired on TV yesterday, one can be excused for wondering, "What's the point?" And how do you justify the "carbon footprint"?

Now I've heard the argument that if a daily paper were to stop publishing on Mondays (or other days of the week), it would no longer "be relevant." Yet the same people will tell you in the next breath that the future of newspapers is online, not in print. And again, using the Searchlight as my example, it has one of the most dynamic and groundbreaking newspaper Web sites in the country. People can and do return to four or five times a day for new information. And I've yet to be convinced that traffic would be any lighter today if there weren't newspapers in the racks.

I know there are lots of other factors besides editorial content that go into deciding whether to publish fewer editions, such as the advertising revenue that's generated on those days, where it comes from, etc. And this isn't advice for the Searchlight or other papers to stop publishing on Mondays. My point is only that if they ever do decide to do this, I will understand why.

Early in my career, I worked for two different papers -- the Roseville Press-Tribune and the Colusa County Sun-Herald -- which have since changed from being daily papers with wire services to publishing only three days a week with all local content. They both have Web sites that update daily. Obviously, my current employer publishes a print edition once a week, and two years ago we consolidated all our zone editions to save on costs. But is constantly updated, and we still have separate online pages for each of the states that were formerly zoned.

In none of these cases have I heard anyone say the papers were better when there were more wire stories in them. The fact was they did what they needed to do to survive or stay ahead, and they created nice niches for themselves in the process.

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