Friday, September 28, 2007

LA Times may start RedEye clone

LA Times Publisher David Hiller (right) told a luncheon audience Thursday that his company may start a free daily. It would be similar to parent company Tribune's RedEye in Chicago, a profitable six-day tab that focuses on the 18-to-34 age group. Reuters quotes Hiller as saying Redeye has added 600,000 readers in an average day to the Tribune's audience. Tribune also publishes the free daily amNewYork.

In June, there was a report that billionaire oilman Phil Anschutz, the owner of the Examiner free dailies, was going to expand into Los Angeles. But a source in the Anschutz empire shot down that report in July, saying the Denver tycoon has put all newspaper expansion plans on hold until their financial picture improves. The source hinted that Anschutz was ready to pull the plug if he didn't see changes.

It's not unusual for major newspapers to announce plans to start their own free dailies in order to keep invaders out of their markets. The Denver Post did just that in January 2006 in order to keep Anschutz from starting a free daily in Denver. However, the Post has never actually launched such a paper.

Online publication insults free dailies


Paid-circulation newspapers have long found it useful to characterize free dailies as "down market," containing nothing but wire stories. It was a slap in the face intended to keep advertisers from trying free dailies. MediaLife Magazine, which rarely gets anything right when it comes to free dailies, has published a condescending piece saying they are suddenly trying to become quality publications -- as if they didn't care what they printed in the past.

Several things caught our attention in this ridiculous article:
    • MediaLife points to the Examiner chain's hiring of "name columnists" as proof that free dailies are improving their news coverage. OK, who are those columnists? Conservatives Bill Sammon (a Fox News regular) and Rowan Scarborough, both of whom constantly write "news stories" defending the Bush administration. They're entitled to their opinions, but they belong on the editorial page like other pundits. If hiring these Republicans is a winning "strategerie" for the Examiner, how come the chain isn't selling more ads?

    • MediaLife credits Metro with convincing U.S. advertisers to buy ads in free dailies. What about the free dailies that existed before Metro entered the U.S. market in 2001? Before Metro arrived, the U.S. had more than a dozen thriving free dailies (Denver, Boulder, Vail, Aspen, Glenwood Springs, Steamboat Springs, Telluride, Colorado; Burlingame, San Mateo, Santa Monica and Palo Alto, California; Conway, Laconia, Berlin, N.H.). Where did those papers get their ads in all of the years before Metro blazed the trail for them? Metro just copied what these successful papers had been doing for many years, claimed they invented it, and the idiots at MediaLife don't know any better. (See June 20, 2006 article where MediaLife actually claimed that Metro brought the free daily to the U.S.)

    • Then there's this appalling paragraph: "Then comes the issue of how to get that free upscale paper in people's hands. With downmarket papers, that's easy. Stick it in commuters' hands as they're boarding a train or bus." Maybe Metro or the Examiner need to "stick" their papers in people's hands, but most free dailies haven't had to force their product on anyone. To the contrary, papers like the Palo Alto Daily News have readers who walk for blocks just to get their paper.
The experts quoted in the MediaLife article complain that it is hard to get a free paper in front of an upscale reader. Actually the experience of many free daily publishers is that readers of all income levels will pick up a paper — if it has news.

That makes us believe that free dailies have a bright future. But that future has little to do with what Metro or the Examiner are doing today. Both are money-losing chains where high-level managers have little idea about what readers want. In the three cities where the Examiner operates, it throws papers on driveways -- and residents are furious. And Metro Boston is purchasing recycling bins for the local transit authority to help it deal with the trash problems created by discarded papers.

If you want examples of "best practices" or "successful formulas," look at those free dailies that have been making money for years. Mostly they are driven by hard hitting local news coverage. Or visit tbt* in Florida or RedEye in Chicago, which have advanced the youth-oriented free daily.

Finally, it is easy for elitists to criticize free dailies for supposedly lacking quality. But the public decides which paper succeeds. We'd rather trust the public when it comes to selecting which newspaper prevails than an elitist anyday.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Paper delivers free to homes, 50 cents in racks

An update to yesterday's item about The Messenger, the new daily in Mount Airy, N.C. Publisher Mike Milligan confirms that The Messenger is being delivered free to homes, but costs 50 cents in news racks. That's a new twist on the free-daily strategy. We know of only five other free dailies that are delivering to homes (the Examiners in D.C., Baltimore and Washington, and The Greensburg Tribune-Review in suburban Pittsbugh, Pennsylvania, and Today's Local News in northern San Diego County), but they're all free in racks and stores.

Metro New York rejects anti-Bush ads

Metro New York has rejected two ads from the political group World Can't Wait, saying they are "too inflammatory" to publish on the back page, according to the group's website. is attempting to contact Metro to get its side of the story.

WCW, founded in 2005 by Revolutionary Communist Party founder Charles Clark Kissinger (according to, claims Metro refused to run an ad headlined “Who is the Real Nuclear Threat?” (pictured) in its September 21 issue because it was “too inflammatory” for the back page. A second ad headlined “One Million Dead in Iraq” was first rejected for placement on the September 25 back page explicitly because of its content, according to WCW.

Then, according to WCW, Metro offered placement on the back page at a price almost four times higher than what was originally agreed upon.

The WCW statement did not give dollar figures.

The dispute comes a week after The New York Times said it erred in giving another anti-war group,, a $77,508 price break on a full-page ad attacking Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. The House and Senate have passed resolutoins condemning for the ad, which referred to Petraeus as "General Betray Us."

WCW director Debra Sweet wrote that the decision by Metro "is undoubtedly related to the 'watch what you say' atmosphere created by the White House," which condemned the MoveOn ad.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

New N.C. free daily really costs 50 cents

One of our readers in North Carolina has tipped us off to the fact that the Mount Airy (N.C.) Messenger has a cover price of 50 cents, according to the PDFs of each day's paper found at its website. We reported Aug. 13 that the paper was free based on this account in the Winston Salem Journal, which said, "The first edition of The Messenger arrived July 9 in Mount Airy, which has a population of about 8,000. It publishes Monday through Friday. Home delivery is free." We've got e-mails out to Messenger managers. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A quarter of free dailies serve small towns

To many in the media, free dailies are a big city phenomena. But Henry E. Scott, former U.S. group publisher of Metro International and now interim director of the new North American Free Daily Newspaper Association, has done a survey showing a quarter of free dailies are in small towns.

Editor & Publisher has a report on the survey. Scott said that he sent out the survey to 60 free dailies and received 19 responses. While not comprehensive, it gives a small snapshot of the landscape.

Bullet points from the survey include:
    • 16 free dailies have a distribution of 100,001 or more copies; 11 have circulations ranging from 50,001 to 100,000; 19 have circulations ranging from 10,001 to 50,000; and 14 have circulations of up to 10,000.

    • Nearly one-third of free dailies are aimed at 18- to- 34-year old adults

    • The average free daily employs 29 people

    • 61% of free dailies distribute 95% or more of their copies

    • 61% of free dailies do their own distribution while 39% outsource delivery

    • More than half of all free dailies own their own presses

    • National advertising accounts for 13% of advertising revenue. The Newspaper National Network represents about 11%
Perhaps the most surprising thing in the E&P article is that a free daily association has already been formed. There has been talk of creating such an association for months. It will be interesting to see where Scott takes it from here.

Fire guts offices of new free daily

This picture shows what's left of the new free daily SmartNews in Fayetteville, N.C. The photo is by Jim McBee, the managing editor of the young paper. He says the fire didn't burn laptops that will allow the paper to continue publishing. The 8,000-circulation paper plans to have an edition out on the streets today. SmartNews started in June with a four-day-a-week printing schedule.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

'Free newspapers ... the future of print'

"Surveying the global newspaper market, it is increasingly plausible to imagine free newspapers as the future of print," writes Tim Luckhurst, a journalism professor at the UK's University of Kent, in an opinion piece in The Independent (of London). He goes on to discuss the growth of free dailies in Spain, Israel and London. Some points worth noting here:
    • Associated Newspapers' London Lite and Rupert Murdoch's thelondonpaper are locked in a battle that neither can win, says former Daily Express editor Richard Addis, who nonetheless plans to join the fray with an upmarket daily provisionally named The Day. "It is a bloody, long-term battle. Each product does its job well. On its own, either would be a good business. But they can't survive together."

    • London Lite had an average daily readership of 745,000 in the January-June period this year, while thelondonpaper had 713,000, Luckhurst notes, citing National Readership Survey figures. "Not bad for two titles that only appeared last year," he says.

    • "When you take a European-wide view, you can really see the value of free media," says Mark Soutar, former editor of the men's magazine FHM who is launching a free men's lifestyle weekly called ShortList. "There is a big age factor: readers over 40 associate free with cheapness and poor quality; readers under 35 have been conditioned by the internet to understand you can get high quality without paying for it."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

San Diego County free daily gets new editor

Today's Local News, the 75,000-circulation free daily serving northern San Diego County, has appointed a new editor. Susan DeMaggio was previously features editor of the Muskegon Chronicle in Michigan. Today's Local News is an offshoot of the Copley-owned San Diego Union-Tribune and DeMaggio will report to U-T senior news editor Todd Merriman. DeMaggio replaces Cindy Allen, who left the free paper. Today's Local News is distributed to homes in the cities of Carlsbad, Escondido, Oceanside, San Marcos and Vista. The San Marcos-based paper is published five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Sun Media buys out '24 Hours' partner

Sun Media Corp. has bought out its local partner in Vancouver's "24 Hours" free daily, The Jim Pattison Group, for an undisclosed amount. "It's not a strategic investment or core holding for the Pattison group," former 24 Hours president and senior Pattison executive Glen Clark told the Vancouver Sun. "On the other hand, Sun Media is developing the brand all across the country. It's a core business for them, there are synergies for them. It made more sense for them to own 100 percent."

The first edition of 24 Hours was published in Vancouver on March 30, 2005. At the time, Sun Media was already publishing versions of 24 Hours in Montreal and Toronto. Sun Media has since launched in Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa in French and English. The current weekday circulation of 24 Hours Vancouver is 210,400 readers, the Vancouver Sun story said.

When 24 Hours started publication, it faced fierce competition from two rival publications. One was Metro, majority-owned by Swedish publisher Metro International SA and minority-owned by CanWest Global Communications Corp. (now CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc.). The other was Dose, owned by CanWest. CanWest has since sold its interest in Metro, and Dose is now publishing an online edition only.

Friday, September 07, 2007

London's Sun feels heat from free papers

The Sun, a London tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch, has slashed its cover price and hired more than 100 street hawkers in order to keep circulation from decreasing in the face of a growing number of free dailies, including one owned by Murdoch, TheLondonPaper. Murdoch acknowledged in 2005 that The Sun’s circulation, now at about 3 million, had suffered at the hands of London's Metro, one of the first free dailies in the city, and since then the commuter paper has continued to increase its distribution. “Murdoch is looking around at the intensified competition, and as the market leader he is taking action first to defend his leadership,” Derek Terrington, an analyst for Blue Oak Capital, a brokerage in London, tells MediaLife.

Santa Barbara free daily adds Saturday

The 17-month-old Santa Barbara Daily Sound will expand from five to six days a week by adding a Saturday edition tomorrow (September 8). The free daily started on March 23, 2006 with a five-day publishing schedule and initial press run of 3,000. Today, the Daily Sound prints 8,000 copies a day and averages 20 pages per copy. "We have a lot of exciting plans for the year to come. The launch of our Saturday paper is the first of some great things to come for the paper," said Editor and Publisher Jeramy Gordon. Above is a scene from the Daily Sound's office captured by a San Francisco Chronicle freelance photographer, Elisa Miller, last October.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

'Israeli' newspaper to take a vacation

A free daily in Israel, which had survived despite a partnership dispute, is now going on hiatus for two weeks (Sept. 23-Oct. 7)during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot and forcing the paper's 25-30 employees to take a forced vacation. The "Israeli" has been published continuously five days a week for the past 22 months but owner Shlomo Ben-Tzvi denied that the time-out means the paper will close. Still, the Israeli business publication Globes says the paper's suppliers haven't been paid. The Isreali denies it. The dispute between partners Ben-Tzvi and Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson resulted in Adelson starting his own free daily, "Israel Today," on July 31.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

German Post Office may launch a free daily

The one major European nation that doesn't have many free dailies is Germany (see Piet Bakker's chart0, but that could soon change. The German post office, Deutsche Post, is considering launching a free daily, and using its letter carriers as distributors, the Frankfurt newspaper Allgemeine Zeitung reports.

Hong Kong to get first English free daily

Hong Kong, which already has three thriving free dailies, will soon have a fourth — but this one will be in English. The Associated Press reports that the paid business paper The Standard will relaunch in a week with a new design as a free daily to boost circulation. Sing Tao News Corp. said it will start next Monday (September 10) with an initial print run of 120,000, a number apparently designed at edging out its better known rival South China Morning Post, whose average daily circulation ranged from 70,000 to more than 133,000 in 2006, according to audit figures. The AP couldn't get current circulation figures for The Standard. Sing Tao said the new edition of the Standard will target expatriates and be handed out in major business districts.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

E&P discovers free dailies

Before Journalism Jobs, the place to go if an up-and-coming reporter was seeking a better job was a magazine called Editor & Publisher. I can remember vividly the sight of reporters in a newsroom where I worked grabbing the latest E&P to see the "help wanted" ads. The magazine had articles too, but I never saw anybody reading them.

Today, E&P has morphed into a website about the news business. It does original reporting including this story headlined: "SPECIAL REPORT: Who Said Print Is Dead?" The article (well worth the time of anybody in the free daily business) is about the commuter or big city version of the free daily. E&P says these papers are aimed at the "club-hopping, trail-hiking, speed-dating young audience that has sustained alternative papers for more than a generation."

The article points out that there may soon be a battle for advertisers between alt-weeklies and commuter free dailies, such as Chicago's RedEye, Dallas's Quick, St. Peterburg's *tbt and Orange County's OC Post. (Not to get technical, but the OC Post is paid, while the other three are free.)

The alt-weekly formula is pretty simple: Left-wing news stories, concert listings, entertainment reviews and porno ads. The porno ads in the past kept a lot of advertisers from signing up with an alt-weekly. But commuter free dailies don't have those ads and can draw upon a broader array of advertising verticals.

Free dailies have another advantage over alt-weeklies. They come out every day. A point made by Henry E. Scott, managing director of Gansevoort Media in New York and the former group publisher of Metro U.S. at the end of the article.

The alt-weekly trade association, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, knows the free dailies are coming. "We used to be the gnats biting at the ankles of the big papers," says Richard Karpel of the association. "Now we have thousand of gnats around trying to take our piece of cheese."