Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Leaving your heart in San Francisco

Tony Bennett sang about losing one's heart in San Francisco, and the publishers of a free daily in that famed city by the bay may soon feel that way. The (San Francisco) Daily Post announced this week that it is pulling out of San Francisco. The paper moved its offices to Palo Alto, a toney university town about 30 miles south of San Francisco, about six months ago. But they still continued to distribute in San Francisco while they essentially built a new paper in Palo Alto. The publishers know something about the market in Palo Alto. They're Dave Price and Jim Pavelich, who started the Palo Alto Daily News in 1995 and sold it in 2005 to Knight Ridder for $25 million.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

An idea for Detroit's newspapers

Detroit's two newspapers announced Tuesday that they are stopping home delivery four days a week and will only sell a scaled-down version of their papers on those days in racks and stores. (Read the AP story. Photo by the AP.)

The move is a cost-cutting measure as the two papers struggle to survive. "We have to change the way we deliver that news — not just in subtle ways, but in fundamental ways," said David Hunke, Detroit Free Press publisher and chief executive of the partnership with the Detroit News.

If he's serious about fundamental change, he should consider making one or both of the papers free on the days they're not delivered to homes. While the bean counters might be horrified at losing single-copy revenue, those quarters would be replaced with dollars from new advertising. Free papers reach a much broader audience than paid papers. The pass-along rate is higher, meaning advertisers get more bang for their buck. Free papers tend to reach the younger readers advertisers desire.

To prove all of that, make one of the papers free and keep the other paid. Run them with separate management teams. After a year, see which one is ahead, and convert the other to that format.

Ads in free dailies work -- sometimes too well!

An advertiser in the free daily AMNewYork has been arrested after a scam in the paper was too successful. The New York Post reports:
    Raadiya James, 22, is accused of buying an ad in AM New York on Dec. 2 that mimicked an official announcement from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development offering cheap apartments on West 57th Street.

    In exchange for a $5 application fee, the home-seekers were offered a shot at studios for $538 and two-bedrooms for $823.

    Over the next few days, more than 1,000 money orders poured into a post-office box.

    But authorities picked up on the alleged scam and when James came to pick up the loot, she was arrested.

Rapid turnover in publishers in Vail, Colo.

It's not often that a newspaper goes through two publishers in one month. But that's what happened this month at the Vail Daily.

Steve Gall, who had headed the paper for 19 months, resigned "to pursue other opportunities," the Vail Daily announced on Dec. 4.

He was replaced by Steve Pope, who was the paper's publisher in 2005 and early 2006 before he was promoted to a regional management job with parent company Swift Newspapers. Then on Tuesday, Pope gave notice so he could take the publisher's job at the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Pope's move to the Colorado Springs' paper is a bit of a head-scratcher because the publisher's slot has been open since August. Why take the Vail job only to quit two weeks later and take the Colorado Springs job instead? Why not take the Colorado Springs job in early December and not bother with Vail?

The official line is that the Colorado Springs job is a big step up for Pope. But we hear that the Vail Daily isn't a fun place to work anymore compared to the first time he was publisher. The founder of the Vail Daily, Jim Pavelich, who sold the paper in the early 1990s to Swift, has started a new paper, the Vail Mountaineer, which is taking away business from the Daily. The Vail Daily has responded by offering advertisers steep discounts — as much as 90 percent — if they agree not to advertise in the new paper. But the strategy may backfire because Swift loses money on the discounted rates.

By the way, at the Gazette Pope will succeed Scott McKibben, who was the publisher of the San Francisco Examiner when it was purchased by billionaire oilman Phil Anschutz.

Metro U.S. did better in 2008 than 2007

Has Metro finally found the right formula for U.S. audiences? This year the paper has had a successful redesign and appears to be attracting more mainstream advertisers — major department stores instead of fly-by-night 1-800 ads. Metro is growing its real estate sections at a time when real estate isn't supposed to be doing that well. And Metro seems to have more ads than in the past and probably a higher yield per page.

"Metro U.S.'s performance in 2008 is very promising and has improved a lot compared to 2007," Metro chief executive Per Mikael Jensen (right) told in an e-mail Wednesday. "We really feel that we are embraced by readers and advertisers.

"So whilst everyone else seems to have a hard time, we have seen big improvements," Jensen wrote. "Our base of advertisers and our yield per page has, as you point out, been increasing during the year."

A year ago, there was talk that Metro was going to close or sell its three U.S. editions (New York, Philadephia and Boston). Jensen put the papers on the market, but there were no takers. Of course the financial meltdown has halted all lending for mergers and acquisitions, so even if somebody was interested, they couldn't get the financing.

Now Jensen tells us, "I’m very sure that Metro has a great future in U.S."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Personnel changes at several free dailies

Metro, the international chain of free dailies, announced yesterday that it has named Tony Metcalf as its Editor in Chief for Metro U.S., overseeing editions in Boston, Philadelphia and New York.

The announcement formalizes the role Metcalf has had since February, when he was asked to temporarily head up the chain's newsrooms after Metro cut 27 positions. Metcalf was planning to return to the Middle East, where he had worked as a editor and publisher, when he was tapped for the temporary job.

Metro's decision to give Metcalf the title of U.S. editor is an indication that the chain plans to keep open its U.S. papers. The three had been on the block earlier this year, but no buyers emerged.

Prior to Metro, Metcalf served for four years as the owner and editorial director of "7 days" in Dubai. Previous to that, he was Global Editor in Chief for Metro International, overseeing the launch of Metro World News, a newswire utilizing Metro's reporters in cities around the world. Metcalf has been involved in launches of Metro around the world including Boston, Toronto, Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, Hong Kong and Seoul.

"Metcalf's global media background, coupled with his localized experience, makes him perfect to helm Metro US," said Georg Tsaros, managing director and publisher of Metro New York. "Metcalf is ideal to unlock the vast editorial potential of Metro in the United States."


Amanda Barrett, who has been promoted by the AP to be its deputy editor for the Eastern U.S. Regional Desk in Philadelphia. She arrived at AP last year from amNewYork. She was the free paper's Web site editor.

In California, two big changes at the Tahoe Daily Tribune, the free daily based in South Lake Tahoe owned by Swift Newspaper. Mary Jurkonis has been appointed publisher. She most recently served as publisher of the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza in Incline Village. Jurkonis succeeds Gail Powell-Acosta.

Also at the Tahoe paper, city editor Elaine Goodman has been promoted to managing editor. Before joining the Tribune in November 2004, she worked for the Reno Gazette-Journal and the Palo Alto Daily News, another free daily.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Legislation proposed over delivery method

A city councilman in Alexandria, Virginia wants to create a "do not deliver" list, similar to "do not call" lists for phone solicitors, designed to curtail unwanted deliveries of the Washington Examiner that have been piling up on driveways and lawns. WJLA-TV in Washington reports that councilman Justin Wilson's "do not deliver" law would include fines against newspaper publishers who continue to deliver despite requests from residents who ask the paper to stop.

WJLA interviewed one resident, Amy Bayer, who said that when she has called, deliveries would stop for a few months, and then start again later. Another resident interviewed by the TV station pointed out that when unwanted newspapers accumulate, they tip off would-be burglars that nobody's home.

Earlier this year a Maryland legislator, Tanya Shewell, proposed similar legislation but was talked out of it by the Examiner, which promised to do a better job. The Examiner also faced the threat of such legislation in San Francisco earlier this year. But the Examiner has since reduced delivery to homes from six days a week to two as a cost-cutting measure. The cut-back appears to have taken some of the steam out of a "do-not-deliver" list in Frisco, though the complaints keep coming.

SPEAKING ABOUT THE EXAMINER, the company has announced that it is closing its printing plant in Maryland that had printed its Washington and Baltimore editions, and will outsource the work to other printing companies. The move will allow the Examiner to shed 101 jobs from its payroll. The Examiner says the move will allow it to print more color ads.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Wyoming free daily turns 30

When the Jackson Hole Daily began Dec. 1, 1978, it was probably the smallest daily newspaper around in at least two ways.

The initial press run was just 2,000 copies for a winter resort that was essentially closed until the ski season started later in December. And the actual size of the paper was unique too -- not a tabloid, but half the dimensions of a tabloid, what printers call a "quarter fold."

In a story about the paper's anniversary, writer Angus M. Thuermer Jr. notes that the pressman waited all night for the small newsroom to finish the first edition. He fell asleep in the newspaper's conference room.

The press finally started at around 5 or 6 in the morning -- even though the idea was to print it the night before. The delivery person couldn't wait any longer and left for another job, which meant the editor and a sleepy salesman had to distribute the first issue on their own.

Thuermer's article continues:
    [Then-editor Paul] Bruun emphasized that 30 years ago there was no ESPN, no USA Today, no CNN. Fax machines were rare and the Internet was a long way off.

    “There was none of that,” Bruun said.

    The product, however, stirred great interest. The Daily, perhaps the world’s smallest, had it all.

    “How delighted people were,” Bruun said, “at the crossword puzzle, the Peanuts cartoon, the little synopsis of stock-market quotations, the gold prices. That was fun.”

    Today the Daily thrives under the leadership of Managing Editor Dava Zucker and a staff of copy editors and layout artists. Four-color photography and advertising are standard, and the publication covers everything from world and national affairs to business, local entertainment, opinions, sports, weather and art in a 15-inch-tall tabloid format.
At the time there were only two other free dailies -- The Colorado Daily in Boulder, born in 1971, and the Aspen Daily News, which began five months before Jackson Hole.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Metro Canada 'facing real challenges'

Metro Canada is apparently "reorganizing," laying off employees and facing "real challenges," the publisher of the Metro's Halifax edition is quoted as saying. Greg Lutes made the comments to his competitor, the Halifax Chronicle Herald, in a story about four layoffs at Metro Halifax on Wednesday. Lutes said two reporters, one sales staffer and one marketing person were let go. Lutes said the cuts were apart of the re-organization of Metro Canada, which announced a couple of months ago that its Canadian circulation had reached one million, strengthening its position as the No. 1 free daily in the country.

Lutes said, "Local (advertising) is not the issue ... It's national (advertising) ... We're facing real challenges right now."

Lutes said circulation at his paper had increased 20 percent this fall.

The Metro Halifax edition now has five people working in its newsroom. Lutes said he felt confident that there would not be any additional layoffs at the Halifax edition.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Youth-oriented, 5-day free paper to close

Link, a five-day free daily in Norfolk, Va., that aimed for the 18-to-34 demo, will print its final edition Dec. 19. Its staff of around 15 to 20 will lose their jobs. The paper was shuttered as part of a round of layoffs and buyouts to hit Virginian-Pilot Media Companies.

Link, begun in October 2006, had received positive reviews and met financial projections, which predicted it would turn profitable by 2010, according to the Virginian-Pilot. But Publisher Maurice Jones said "we, as a company, cannot afford to withstand those losses in the next couple of years in this climate."

Jones said it is possible that Link's Web site will be kept alive.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Head-to-head competition claims a free daily

A locally-owned free daily serving Eureka, California will print its last edition on Saturday after battling for five years with the town's chain-owned paid daily, according to The Associated Press.

Eureka, a town of about 27,000, is in far Northern California near the Oregon border. It overlooks the Pacific Ocean coast.

The Eureka Reporter was started by a local developer and banker, Rob Arkley, a conservative who felt the town's longtime paid daily, the Times-Standard, was too liberal.

The Times-Standard is owned by MediaNews Group, a chain of 57 dailies headed by Dean Singleton, who was a big backer of President Bush. Yet Singleton's papers are mostly liberal. Singleton doesn't tell his editors to slant the news.

And, oddly enough, Arkley didn't attempt to tell the journalists who worked for the Reporter how to cover the news either. The only hint of conservatism in the Reporter came on the editorial page.

Arkley's Eureka Reporter scooped up numerous awards. It also has a state-of-the-art press that produced vidid photos and ads.

Probably the smartest thing Arkley did was hire Judi Pollace, a highly respected veteran of the Times-Standard who produced a credible product. I understand that Judy was also an attendee at the 2007 small daily conference in Florida. (She is seen here in a photo that appeared in a 2006 San Francisco Chronicle article about the Eureka newspaper battle. The photo at top, showing a billboard on Highway 101 between Arcata and Eureka, is also from that story. Both were shot by Chris Stewart.)

As the U.S. economy hit tough times this year, Singleton went after the competition with a couple of lawsuits over economic matters. The first concerned legal ads and whether the Eureka Reporter fit the narrow criteria to publish them. A local court agreed with the Reporter, but an appeals court did not — and the Reporter lost all of its revenue from legal ads.

Singleton's second lawsuit alleged that Arkley was selling ads in the Eureka Reporter at a loss in order to take business away from the Times-Standard.

A few weeks ago, Arkley called Singleton and said, "It was time to do something," according to a Times-Standard story. Arkley searched for a new buyer for his paper, Singleton said, but found none.

Singleton said the ad-pricing suit is now moot and he has agreed to allow Arkley to provide editorial pages to the Times-Standard twice a week.

The Times-Standard quoted a local assistant journalism professor, Marcy Burstiner, who said she's never heard of an agreement like the freshly formed one between the two Eureka papers, where one newspaper agrees to run another's editorials. While the agreement will preserve the Reporter's voice, Burstiner said she's not sure it's worth saving.

”It was a crazy editorial voice,” she said. “It was actually a very interesting paper, but their editorials were crazy. Personally I don't think that editorial voice reflected that of the Eureka community.”

The Times-Standard story on the closing of its rival ended with this:
    For his part, Singleton said his thoughts are with those at the Reporter who will be losing jobs, and complimented Arkley on igniting a newspaper war the likes of which are growing rarer and rarer.

    ”Many wealthy people who start a newspaper would open it up for their own purposes -- I didn't see that,” Singleton said. “He assembled a good staff and let them go, and probably lost a lot of money in the process. He loves this community.”

Monday, November 03, 2008

Plug pulled on Washington state free daily

David Black of Sound Publishing has pulled the plug on the 10,600-circulation Kitsap Free Daily serving Kitsap County on Puget Sound, west of Seattle.

“We are temporarily suspending publication of the Free Daily to focus on our core products in Kitsap County,” says Lori Maxim, Vice President of West Sound Newspaper Operations. “The Daily is a fantastic product but we have decided to shift our focus to continued development of our online products and the community newspapers serving the Kitsap region.” Sound Publishing has six weeklies in the Kitsap area.

Here's a link to the announcement.

Black (no relation o Canadian-born British former media mogul Conrad Black) also group of 17 free dailies in British Columbia. The average circulation is 4,818 with the largest being the Victoria and Nanaimo editions at 10,000 each. Here's a profile did of him last month.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

RedEye gives McCain a black eye

RedEye, the Chicago Tribune's free daily, ran an ad on page 2 the on Wednesday with a pie chart that used a lot of ink. That pie chart gave John McCain a black eye when the page was held up to the light (right). Certainly the black eye was unintentional, but it might be hard to explain to Republicans after the Tribune's endorsement of Barack Obama a few days earlier. Credit for spotting this item goes to the local Chicago site

It's all about advertising

One of the reasons why free daily newspapers have so much potential is that they're free. And if they're distributed widely, they can reach many more people than a paid newspaper.

Readers who are 40 and younger likely didn't grow up in homes that subscribed to newspapers. They're not accustomed to paying for a paper -- particularly if they have been getting news from the Internet and TV. Older readers, when exposed to a free paper carrying a lot of local news, will search for that paper again and again. And free papers have higher pass-along rates, meaning more people read each copy than a paid paper. Free papers capture the interest of the casual reader who long ago stopped reading paid papers (or never started).

Ultimately free makes the advertiser's buck go farther and puts ads in front of people who wouldn't normally pick up a paid newspaper.

Free can be a fantastic business model.

But that's not the opinion of Morris Communications, which has decided to flip its Bluffton (S.C.) Today, a 17,000-circulation free daily near Hilton Head, S.C., from free to paid (25 cents daily, 75 cents on Sunday) beginning Dec. 1. Bluffton Today was started by Morris three years ago as an experiment. Morris, by switching from free to paid, has essentially said the experiment is over.

Publisher Tim Anderson wrote:
    The question I’ve been asked most since we launched Bluffton Today was when we would convert to apaid newspaper. My reply has always been the same. We did not build the model with aplan to convert to paid subscriptions.

    The model was built to rely solely on advertising revenues to publish daily. Every member of the Bluffton Today team had confidence that we could make the free newspaper model work.

    And we did for more than three years. We continued to manage our expenses while experiencing revenue growth through the first of this year. But these are extreme times for most businesses, and newspapers are no exception.

    Over the past year we have experienced significant price increases in newsprint and ink. And newsprint price increases are projected into 2009. In addition to expense issues our advertising revenues began to “soften” in the second quarter. Our revenue was not covering the additional expenses. We tried several things to provide an acceptable bottom line. Restructuring departments and eliminating several positions going into this year provided little relief. We adjusted the number of pages in the paper but realized we weren’t providing you with some of the coverage we promised when we launched. So we had to find anew solution.
Anderson says his ad revenues are declining. How much more will those revenues decline when advertisers discover their ads are less effective than before? What will an advertiser who regularly runs a coupon think when he only gets 10 coupons a month compared to 50 when the paper was free?

Signs of improvement at Metro U.S.

The Web site posted a story Thursday headlined "For Metro, the future looks doubtful."

I can't argue with the headline. Metro's three U.S. papers, in Philadelphia, Boston and New York, are apparently losing money and have been on the block since January with no takers. Of course merger and acquisition activity is at a standstill due to the credit crisis. That's not Metro's fault. And the U.S. is in the midst of a recession.

We also can't quibble with the statement that the three papers need capital to remain open. It's expensive to print papers with daily press runs of (and these figures are about a year old, but the most reliable I have at hand) 300,000 in New York, 187,000 in Boston and 140,000 in Philly. Printing costs for the three combined are likely over $1 million a month. The last I heard, the three papers have a combined head count of 120. I have no guess on payroll.

But we looked at a few recent issues of Metro and were impressed by several things:
    • The content is more lively and upbeat than we've ever seen it. Gone are the boring wire stories. They've been replaced by staff-written, edgy, youth-oriented stories like you'd see in RedEye.

    • Better layout. In Friday's Philadelphia Metro — which celebrated the Phillies World Series victory — the headlines were big, colorful and conversational: "Metro gives Palin a little career advice," "At least we're better than Boston," "We agree with J-Roll: Skip work" and "Slacker Prodigy."

    • Friday's edition was 28 pages not including a four-page wrap. While that page count might seem small to some, it keeps paper costs down and lets editorial pour its talents into fewer pages, resulting in better work.

    • A quick statement from the city editor about the news, with his picture. This adds a personal dimension to the paper (so that a reader thinks that real people are putting out the paper, not a faceless corporation).

    • The ads in Friday's edition were impressive — Macy's, Citizens Bank, local car dealers, movie theaters, a double-truck from Carnival cruiselines and a wrap (four pages) from the state Department of Transportation. The paper looks healthy from an advertising perspective. It's easier to sell ads when you have ads.

    • Metro is now placing a front page ad to the right of its flag, called an "ear," something the free dailies in the San Francisco Bay Area began doing a couple of years ago. Again, this is a smart move that attracts advertisers and adds to the bottom line.
While Metro is having money problems, it is putting out a better product than we've seen before. It is producing a newspaper that should be attracting readers and advertisers — which may help Metro ride out this economic downturn.

Friday, October 10, 2008

An overlooked baron of free dailies

Reports about the free daily newspaper industry usually overlook one of its most successful publishers, David Black of Victoria, British Columbia (not related to Canadian-born British former media mogul Conrad Black).

One reason is geography — the financial media and those who cover newspapers are on the East Coast while Black's empire is in western Canada. Another reason is that his company, Black Press, is privately held, so it doesn't furnish quarterly earnings reports, which would put the company on the radar screen of those who cover the newspaper industry.

But do some digging and you'll find Black Press owns 170 newspapers in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and Ohio. They include the Akron Beacon Journal and Honolulu Star-Bulletin. But the majority of his publications are small, profitable community newspapers.

Black's newspapers have state-of-the-art websites, but he's making money with print.

"I'm bullish on newspapers, especially community newspapers,'' Black told Bloomberg News. "I think they are a really solid business.''

Most of Black's community papers are weeklies, but he has two interesting free daily operations:
    • the 10,600-circulation Kitsap Free Daily serving Kitsap County on Puget Sound, west of Seattle. Black owns six weeklies in the same area, and their sales reps are able to cross sell between the daily and weekly publications. The group shares the same printing press, back office operations, news reporters, etc., making the arrangement cost effective.

    • and a 81,900-circulation group of 17 free dailies in British Columbia. The average circulation is 4,818 with the largest being the Victoria and Nanaimo editions at 10,000 each. Black has stayed out of Vancouver, where two free dailies (Metro and 24 hours) operate, and instead has concentrated on the suburbs and small towns. It's a far flung group, too, with 200 miles between the westernmost paper, in Comox, and the easternmost, in Kelowna.
Most of the stories in the 17 papers are the same except for a few local reports. However, the zoning allows each community to have its own nameplate and gives local advertisers the ability to just advertise in one edition if they choose (see rate card). Similar to the situation in Kitsap, Black owns weeklies in the towns where he has free dailies, so advertisers in the weeklies are often upsold into the free daily. Because of this arrangement, Black was able to say that the papers were immediately profitable soon after he started them in 2005.

Black told the Globe & Mail newspaper in 2005 that the key to making these newspapers succeed is keeping costs low and distributing them efficiently, where people gather. His free dailies also challenge the notion that free dailies can only survive in large cities with mass transit systems.

To read more about David Black, see this profile by the Seattle Weekly in July. The photo of Black is from the Seattle Times.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Paper's redesign copies competitor

A curious thing has happened in San Francisco. One free daily appears to have redesigned its front page nameplate to look a lot like its competitor.

Above is The City Star, a free daily the Examiner started two years ago in an attempt to kill off an independent free daily, the Daily Post. Apparently the Examiner, owned by billionaire oilman Phil Anschutz, didn't want another free daily in town. Recently the City Star has changed its front page design. See below.

The nameplate is now four-inches wide, just like the Daily Post. The Star now has teases to the left of its nameplate and an ad on the right, just like the Daily Post. And, the Star has a column of national news briefs, just like the Daily Post.

But in the two years since the Star and Post have been going head to head, the Star still hasn't picked up much advertising. It's typical issue is 16 pages, while the Post is running between 24 and 44 pages a day.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Canada's '24 hours' puts copy on the cover

Since the beginning of tabloid-sized newspapers, editors have debated whether to put news copy on the cover or put large headlines and photographs.

New York's Post and Daily News are famous for screaming headlines and bold photos that attempt to sell the reader on a major story that starts inside. Today's most successful urban free dailies, amNewYork and Chicago's RedEye, have magazine-like covers, emphasizing one story with a single photo, with a couple of teases.

But community free dailies have taken a different approach, putting as many as four stories on the front with text, like a smaller-sized traditional broadsheet. Examples include the Conway (N.H.) Daily Sun, Denver Daily News, Aspen (Colo.) Times, Aspen Daily News, Palo Alto (Calif.) Daily News and Santa Monica (Calif.) Daily Press.

After considerable research, the Canada's chain of "24 hours" free dailies has switched from the magazine-cover format to one with two stories that have text. It's really a hybrid of the two styles since there still is a large photo that promotes a story inside along with teases along the top.

24 hours -- with editions in Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver -- calls the format "hi-speed news."

"Insights from our readers, prospective readers, advertisers and ad agencies set the course for the redesign," said Chris Brockbank, vice president of marketing at 24 hours parent Sun Media. "Essentially they want sharp and fast headline news and a consistent, quick navigation system to get to content they want.

"We've put the emphasis squarely on those characteristics in this first step of our program to introduce improvements driven by research," Brockbank said.

Arizona free daily cuts back to 4 days a week

In suburban Phoenix, the 102,000-circulation East Valley Tribune is switching to a 4-day-a-week publication schedule, eliminating 142 jobs including that of its executive editor Jim Ripley, and ending distribution and coverage in two cities, Scottsdale and Tempe.

The changes are dramatic for the paper that switched from paid to free distribution (with paid subscriptions) last year. Management is blaming the downturn in advertising but also said its parent company, Irvine, Calif.-based Freedom Communications, has not been able to trim costs fast enough to offset that drop despite three rounds of layoffs.

The changes will take place in early January, and those losing their jobs are getting three months notice.

"The new print edition will have two sections — one for local news and a second for sports, entertainment and late-breaking news. Both sections will be tabloid-sized, and the front page of the newspaper will look similar to its current layout. Zoned editions are planned for each of the four communities," said an announcement posted Monday night on the paper's website.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Examiner endorsement triggers firestorm

It shouldn't come as a surprise that billionaire Phil Anschutz's three Examiner newspapers (San Francisco, Washington and Baltimore) would support the Republican ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin. But Thursday's front-page endorsement enraged readers in far-left San Francisco.

The SF Weekly reported:
    "... [T]here were nearly 900 comments most from locals who expressed confusion and a feeling they had been betrayed.

    "Examiner's managers put a gag order on reporters and editors. A brusk managing editor, Deirdre Hussey, would only say 'I'm not going on record with you. You have to contact the publisher, John Wilcox.' Hussey, however, did not offer to provide Wilcox's contact information.

    "One switchboard operator says the calls were coming in fast and furious on Thursday when the endorsement was posted online. 'We got a lot of calls and people were coming to the door,' she says. 'There was a great deal of displeasure and people wanted to know if we were crazy. But one good thing, nobody swore at me.'”, a tech industry gossip site, also took note of the unusual front-page endorsement, calling it "clumsy and pointless."

Under the heading "Great moments in journalism," Valleyway opined:
    "Anschutz is a billionaire Republican and a devout Christian, but up until now he's proven more interested in making money in a post-Craigslist local ad market than in trying to save San Francisco from pot-smoking gay abortionists. That's why today's cover, which endorses the GOP's John McCain and Sarah Palin ticket the day after McCain's "huh-what?" suspension of his campaign, seems to be a classic case of election emotions spun out of control ... Is anyone going to change their vote because of the paper?"

New editor for Chicago's RedEye

Tran Ha, who started as a copy editor at the Chicago Tribune's RedEye five years ago, has been named editor of that free daily, succeeding Jane Hirt, who was promoted to managing editor of the Tribune last month. Ha, 30, started at RedEye and then became an editor on the Tribune's feature desk. Last year, she returned to RedEye to launch its Saturday edition. Earlier this year, she became editor of TheMash, a new Chicago Tribune paper produced for and in collaboration with Chicago public high school students.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Dallas free daily to become a weekly

The Dallas Morning News says it plans to convert its free daily Quick to a weekly and shift its focus from news to entertainment effective Oct. 30.

News of the switch, which has been rumored for months, comes a month after the Morning News began delivering another quick-read daily, Briefing, to about 200,000 homes that do not subscribe to the Morning News. Briefing appears Wednesdays through Sundays and picks up many of the ads in the Morning News. Briefing allows the Morning News to say that it reaches more homes than before.

In its new form, Quick will be delivered door-to-door to young adults in apartment complexes, with the other half distributed in rack locations in entertainment districts and retail venues. The Morning News says it will increase its circulation from 95,000 to 100,000.

The Dallas Morning News launched Quick on Nov. 10, 2003 in an attempt to head off another free daily planned in Dallas, the A.M. Journal Express. The Journal Express lasted six months.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

"The b" pushes limits with "Douchebag" cover

The b, a free daily published by the Tribune Company's Baltimore Sun, raised a few eyebrows this week with its cover headline "Douchebag!"

The article described the qualities of such a person — "You talk about 'Lost' as if it were "The Grapes of Wrath,'" "You pretend you know how to swirl and sniff wine" and "You're a Yankees fan." It was highly subjective but a lot of fun for the 18-34 demo The b is hoping to reach.

Over at the b's mother newspaper, The Sun, a number of staffers complained to Anne Tallent, the editor of the b, and to Tim Ryan, the publisher of Sun Media Group, according to the blog of Sun copy editor and Loyola College instructor John E. McIntyre.

"Ms. Tallent responded that her readers are of a different sensibility than the readers of The Sun and are not inclined to find the word objectionable," McIntyre wrote. "She did not suggest that the members of The Sun’s staff are a bunch of dusty old fogies, but I fear that some of my colleagues may have drawn an inference."

McIntyre noted that his students don't have a problem with the words "sucks" or "scumbag," even though the latter term originally referred to a condom. But they told him that they would not have used "douchebag" in a headline.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Good news, bad news for Examiner

Baltimore's alt-weekly, The City Paper, has picked that city's version of The Examiner as the best local newspaper.

"The Examiner may not have some of the stuff the [Baltimore] Sun has — the Pulitzers, the fancy new redesign, the insights of 'innovation' expert Lee Abrams — but it does have what we want: Local news. Lots of it. Covered in a straightforward, diligent fashion. Which is why, more and more often, it's the paper we turn to when we want to know what's going on in and around town," said The City Paper.

As for the bad news, the San Francisco Examiner is having financial problems. The San Francisco Press Club blog reports that the Examiner has laid off production and sales employees in the last month, and not replaced other employees who left the newspaper. The exact number isn't known.

Spanish-language free daily starts in Boston

A successful free Spanish weekly newspaper in the Boston area, "Siglo 21" (translation: 21st Century), became a free daily on Monday, Sept. 15, to coincide with Spanish Heritage Month.

"We see a need to reach the larger Hispanic community in the area with a daily," Siglo 21 owner Victor Manuel Gonzalez Lemus told the Boston Globe. (Photo by Erik Jacobs for the Boston Globe.)

This week, Siglo21 will start a promotional blitz on local Spanish television and radio to promote the new daily.

Siglo21 is currently distributed in newspaper boxes, restaurants and mom-and-pop businesses. Lemus said he plans to have more newsstands in apartment complexes in Lawrence, Lowell, Andover, and Salem, N.H.

To publish several times a week, Lemus told the Globe will boost his staff of 22 with more reporters. To keep costs down, he plans to publish only 5,000 copies on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. On Thursdays, the run increases to 10,000 and will be distributed throughout Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Metro launches new editorial strategy in Canada

It's encouraging to hear that a publisher is spending money to improve the quality of news in a newspaper. That appears to be exactly what Metro Canada is doing in appointing Dianne Rinehart as its new editor-in-chief for English Canada. The veteran journalist's work has appeared in the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette, Winnipeg Free Press, Calgary Herald and Vancouver Sun.

Her plan at Metro is to "out-report, out-design, out-delight, out-service and out-deliver the competition in the paper - and on the web."

According to Media in Canada, Reinhart plans to:
    • Reposition Metro as a "hybrid newspaper" — with an increased focus on magazine-style sections such as health, food, style and homes, in addition to exceptional news coverage.

    • Add several high-profile columnists including political analyst Lawrence Martin, environmentalist David Suzuki, humor writer Anne Hines, health expert Celia Milne, The Smart Cookies TV team's financial advice, food writer Barb Holland, relationship expert Josey Vogels, and Alan Cross, host of The Ongoing History of New Music.

    • Increase synergies between the paper's newsprint and online edition.

    • Utilize Metro's six newsrooms across Canada to create a media platform that allows for in-depth local news coverage.
The last bullet point may be the most important. People like local news. Reducing coverage from those outposts would be suicide for Metro.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

'Otis' says LA launch delayed until January

We're almost afraid to pass this information along because it might be a hoax. So don't make any life-changing decisions based on what you're about to read.

As we mentioned below, we e-mailed the person who posted a Craigslist ad seeking staffers for a new free daily in Los Angeles. Since then, we've been carrying on an e-mail conversation with a person using the name of the late LA Times publisher Otis Chandler (pictured).

Otis tells us that the new paper has signed a distribution deal, but that the launch has been delayed from November to January.

"The launch week editions are set to be 64 pages each split into three sections all on 34# hi-brite paper all in four color process," Otis writes.

According to the paper's Web site, the initial circulation will be between 200,000 and 350,000, Monday-Friday, with no Saturday edition. But there will be a Sunday edition which will be available nationally.

Otis says that the new paper is negotiating to buy a "Los Angeles-based publication that will become the cornerstone of the new paper ... so in effect our original plans of a start-up have morphed into a re-launch." Otis says the acquisition target isn't a daily.

He says they're buying the publication for its advertising base.

Q: Distributing throughout LA seems impossible or at least a huge headache. Are you focusing on some areas more than others? If so, which ones?

Otis: The actual city limits are our geographic focus. We've secured distribution at 0.03 per copy.

Q: Will this look like RedEye Chicago? tbt* Tampa Bay? amNewYork? Metro?

Otis: We won't look like anything you've seen before in a daily newspaper.

Q: Will you have a general news focus, or will you cover more closely the entertainment industry? The legal industry? Some other industry?

Otis: Hard news mainly in the form of columns, heavy entertainment coverage.

One more thing -- Otis says Phil Anschutz, the billionaire owner of the Examiner chain, isn't involved in this start-up.

Again, we have no idea whether this information is accurate. This may just be a scam. Choosing Otis Chandler's name is, of course, significant. Chandler, publisher from 1960 to 1980, built the LA Times into one of the nation's great newspapers. David Halberstam, in his 1979 book "The Powers That Be," wrote: "No publisher in America improved a paper so quickly on so grand a scale, took a paper that was marginal in qualities and brought it to excellence as Otis Chandler did."

In the 1980s, Chandler turned the paper and its parent company, Times Mirror, over to people outside his family, a decision he would regret. The New York Times wrote in Chandler's obituary: "In retirement, Mr. Chandler lashed out at the Times's managers during a 1999 scandal that erupted over revelations that they had secretly entered a deal to devote an edition of the newspaper's Sunday magazine to the Staples Center, a new indoor sports stadium in Los Angeles, in exchange for hefty ad revenues. In a public letter to Times employees, Mr. Chandler warned that management's 'unbelievably stupid and unprofessional' behavior risked destroying the newspaper's reputation as one of the giants of American journalism."

Whether this Otis Chandler exists is a mystery that probably won't be cleared up until January, at the earliest. As for the idea of starting a free daily in L.A., given the success of free dailies like amNewYork and Chicago's RedEye, why not?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Clues emerge about LA project

Is LA getting a new paper called The Free Daily? We have no idea whether the following information is on the up-and-up or whether we're being hoaxed. But with that warning, we'll pass it along.

We e-mailed the person who posted a Craigslist ad about starting a new free daily in Los Angeles. A person using the name of LA Times Publisher Otis Chandler (1927-2006) responded:
    We will make as much of our plan known as possible on September 2nd. Some of the key members of our team were involved with other groups in the Los Angeles market that prevented them from working on competing projects until 9/1/08. The first issues of TFD [The Free Daily] will likely not hit the streets until January 2009, we had originally planned a November 2008 launch...right now we are negotiating to buy a Los Angeles-based publication that will become the cornerstone of the new in effect our original plans of a start-up have morphed into a re-launch.
Sounds like somebody ought to contact Dean Singleton, the largest owner of soon-to-be-abandoned paid dailies in Southern California, to see if he is talking to these guys.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Will this 'hirt' RedEye?

Jane Hirt, the editor behind the highly successful free daily RedEye, has been promoted by Tribune Co. to managing editor of the Chicago Tribune. Her tenure at RedEye dates back to when it was a paid newspaper, and the Tribune Co. was trying to figure out where it fit in Chicagoland publishing scene. RedEye, with Hirt at the helm, found its own way with distinctive and relevant features that made it a hit with the 18-to-34 crowd. No replacement has been named. Here's an interview we did with her in 2007.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

RedEye tweaks design, trims 1.5 inches

COMMENTARY: The "R" in RedEye has gone from uppercase to lower case on the cover of the Chicago Tribune's youthful free daily. The paper itself is 1 1/2 inches shorter than before. And the headline font has been changed to Stag Sans.

But the changes appear to be mere tweaks to a very popular and successful newspaper. The reduction in size makes the paper easier to hold, which is a plus for readers who use public transportation. The fonts improve what was already a strong design package. The content of RedEye hasn't changed, and that's a good thing. Lots of short, snappy stories -- blurbs really -- that move a reader through the paper quickly.

For instance, the Aug. 11 issue (at right) served up stories about the dangers of driving while using the phone, why e-mail is making a mess of our lives, reader reviews of Chicago's newest bars and heavy coverage of Olympic phenom Michael Phelps.

They're the kind of stories you'd be apt to talk about over the watercooler.

Plus RedEye has celebrity coverage — in this issue, Bernie Mac's death and a RedEye interview with Jessica Simpson. But it's not all fluff — RedEye carries a full page of national and international news, and another full page of Chicagoland news.

EXAMINER REDESIGN: The Examiner papers have also improved their look with a redesign. Gone are the cluttered covers with multiple headlines, all about the same size in serif type faces. Now the Examiner cover consists of one photo, one major headline, and some teases. The inside pages look brighter with the new headline font and the addition of more white space. On Sundays, the cover features an illustration of a person being profiled by the Examiner. The content of the Examiner hasn't changed. You can still find "news" stories written by right-wing commentators like Bill Sammon and editorials more extreme than anything Rush Limbaugh has had to say, but as far as the design is concerned, it's better.

New editors, publishers in Colorado

Swift Newspapers, owner of several free dailies in Colorado, announced today that it has appointed Valerie Smith as the publisher of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. She will replace Jim Hyatt, who became publisher in May and now has left the company, according to the rival Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. Smith has worked for Swift since 1993 and was publisher of its Glenwood Springs Post Independent and associate publisher of its Vail Daily.

Speaking about the Vail Daily, it has a new editor — its old editor, Don Rogers. Rogers left the Vail paper last year to head up another Swift paper, the Record-Courier in Gardnerville, Nev. But he's back in Vail, possibly because the Vail Daily is facing new competition in the form of the Vail Mountaineer, a free daily started by the founder of the Vail Daily, Jim Pavelich. Pavelich sold the Vail Daily in 1993 and decided to start publishing again because he didn't like the way his old paper was covering the news. Rogers, who was editor in Vail from 1999 to 2007, also said there was another reason for returning to Vail. He said his family had not yet moved to Nevada, and that he was returning often to visit with them. "I got the chance to experience the Daily more as a regular reader, and I think that gave me valuable insights that I would not have from the inside. And working in a new place has given me fresh perspective," he said in a Vail Daily article.

Rogers will replace Alex Miller, who is moving to Summit County to be the editor of the Summit Daily News. It's also a Swift paper.

In Boulder, the Colorado Daily — the oldest free daily in the U.S. — has a new editor. Matt Sebastian was previously city editor of Boulder's paid paper, the Daily Camera. In the past, the Colorado Daily and Daily Camera were rivals, but today they're owned by the same company (Prairie Mountain Publishing, a joint venture with Denver-based MediaNews Group, publisher of the Denver Post) and operate out of the same building. "The two papers operate independent newsrooms but share some content, with editors at each publication selecting the stories that best suits their readership," said a story in the Camera announcing Sebastian's appointment.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

California city removes free paper's racks

In the 1960s, the free speech movement's heart and soul was in San Francisco and surrounding Bay Area communities like Berkeley. 

Things have changed, however. On Aug. 13th, the city of Palo Alto hauled away 27 newsracks of a new free daily newspaper, the Daily Post. The city contends the newspaper violated its 1998 newsrack ordinance, which apparently limits the number of spaces newspapers can have in Palo Alto's downtown area. 

Palo Alto's downtown is dominated by University Avenue, a Rodeo Drive-like shopping destination. 

The city regulates the newsracks in the area and forces them to use modular boxes. But when the Post asked for spaces in these racks, the city dragged its feet. So the paper's publishers, Jim Pavelich and Dave Price (who started the Palo Alto Daily News in 1995 and sold it for $25 million to Knight Ridder in 2005), decided to put free-standing racks throughout the downtown area in defiance of the ordinance -- or at least until the city could give them spaces.

The city might have even looked the other way until it fixed its ordinane except for the phone calls it got from the politically connected publisher of a weekly newspaper — Palo Alto's mayor is a lawyer whose firm represents the weekly — who demanded the removal of the Post's racks. 

In a horrendous move, city workers grabbed the Post's newsracks off the streets and put them into a flatbed truck. 

Within hours, however, the Post put racks back on the street. But this time Editor and Co-Publisher Dave Price vowed that if the city touched the racks again, they would have to arrest him first and throw him in jail. 

He even posed for this photo on top of a space where one of his racks was removed, but other free-standing racks were allowed to stay. The incident blew up into a major controversy and a day later, the city offered the Post roughly the same number of racks as its competitors. The Post printed a story on Monday, Aug. 18, saying the controversy was over.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Somebody is having fun in LA

Are there plans to start a free daily in Los Angeles? After all, it is the last of the three major markets without one. A classified ad on Craigslist (now withdrawn) has been followed by this Web site at

Our first reaction? Guess you've heard of clip art photos!

Here's the text of the site:
    We are going to launch a FREE daily newspaper here in Los Angeles. We will also be developing a companion website. The initial circulation will be between 200,000 and 350,000 daily M-F, no Saturday edition and a 500,000 circulation Sunday edition which will be available nationally.
Hey, that sounds like billionaire oilman Phil Anschutz's plans in San Francisco, Baltimore and Washington. Only problem is that his business model hasn't worked. It failed so miserably that he just slashed his circulation by 40 percent after struggling for three years to make his papers work.
    It will be distributed free of charge throughout the Los Angeles market through alliances with key retailers and vendor box distribution.
LA is the nation's biggest market geographically. Unless you're the LA Times, you won't be able to pull that off.
    Additionally you'll be able to subcribe to it and receive home delivery for about $50 a year.

    We are looking for writers, web developers, photographers, editors (who can write), designers and seasoned sales professionals. If you have experience here in LA we know who you are, if you do not but are looking to break in, fine.

    We've secured office space in the heart of the city.
Guess that means you've got a lease.
    When we launch, our staff will likely number between 75 and 100.

    Right now we are seeking people with ideas who are willing to share them in strict confidence. We have our own ideas, we aren't looking to steal yours but if we are on the same page perhaps a partnership was meant to be. Impress us, you may be considered for what will likely be the most coveted media jobs in the country.
We've sent a couple of e-mails to those purporting to start a free daily in Los Angeles. No answer.

LA Observed says that one of the writers leaving the LA Times responded to the new paper's Craigslist ad and asked "who are you?" She got back this reply:
    "Who are you?"

    "TFD Management team."

    "Right now we are the asking the questions - you are the 1500th respondent ..."
The Web site for this supposed newspaper says management will "reach out to interested parties" before Labor Day.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Free daily apparently planned in L.A.

With the Los Angeles Times shedding staff and cutting back coverage, this could be a good time to start a free daily in Los Angeles. Here's an ad that popped up on Craigslist. We're trying to find out who placed it. If you have any information, our e-mail address is
    NEW FREE DAILY NEWSPAPER LAUNCHING - in search of leadership team (Mid Wilshire)

    Reply to:
    Date: 2008-07-29, 7:13AM PDT

    We are going to launch a FREE daily newspaper here in Los Angeles. We will also be developing a companion website. The initial circulation will be between 200,000 and 350,000 daily M-F, no Saturday edition and a 500,000 circulation Sunday edition which will be available nationally.

    It will be distributed free of charge throughout the Los Angeles market through alliances with key retailers and vendor box distribution. Additionally you'll be able to subcribe to it and receive home delivery for $50 a year.

    The financing is secure and the ownership (comprised of some remarkable wealthy Angelenos you probably have heard of) is eager to assemble a small idea team that may be comprised of some of our intial hires. The ownership team comes from a wide array of businesses exclusive of traditional media. So...

    The goal is to make the paper sustainable within 30 months. Employees will profit share and the company will never be sold and never turned public without a majority vote of the employees.

    We are looking for writers, web developers, photographers, editors (that can write), designers and seasoned sales professionals. If you have experience here in LA we know who you are, if you do not but are looking to break in, fine.

    We've secured office space in the heart of the city. When we launch, our staff will likely number between 75 and 100.

    Right now we are seeking people with ideas who are willing to share them in strict confidence. You will not be paid for this time now but, you may be considered for what will likely be the most coveted media jobs in the country.

    The interest list is forming, are you in? Send us your resume, we'll let you know if we want clips.

    Your application will be CONFIDENTIAL and we are an EOE.

    Location: Mid Wilshire
    it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
    Compensation: no pay
    PostingID: 774473716

Quick in Dallas switches to weekly

A.H. Belo Corp. plans to lay off 14 percent of the staff of the Dallas Morning News and convert its 100,000 circulation free daily, Quick, into a weekly. Belo says its total sales are off 21 percent this year which includes a 12 percent drop in online sales. It hopes to cut $50 million company-wide.

Quick will now focus more intensely focus on the entertainment interests of young single adults and drop much of the hard news coverage the paper was providing.

The move comes as the Dallas Morning News is about to start a free 16-page broadsheet newspaper called Briefing that is being thrown on the driveways of non-subscribers in high-income areas. When Briefing was announced, rumors about the fate of Quick began swirling. Just this week, the start date of Briefing was changed from Aug. 22 to Aug. 27.

The Dallas Morning News launched Quick on Nov. 10, 2003 in an attempt to head off another free daily planned in Dallas, the A.M. Journal Express. The Journal Express lasted six months. In the four-and-a-half years since then, Quick apparently wasn't able to become a strong enough asset that it could escape the budget ax.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this posting said Briefing had already started, which is incorrect.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Metro interested in U.S. network of papers

The chief executive of Metro International, Per Mikael Jensen (pictured), says he's interested in forming a network with other U.S. free daily publishers to attract national ad dollars. He told in an e-mail:
    A national sales-network could attract national advertisers. The U.S. is very different to Europe in the fact that U.S. doesn't really have any national newspaper at all. The largest by circulation newspaper is USA Today which [reaches] only 1 percent of the population. In Europe, you often find the largest newspaper being both national and covering up to 7-8 percent of the population and in terms of readership reaching more than 20 percent of the adult population.

    We can do the same in America. Imagine a newspaper — or rather, a network of newspapers — all targeting that very hard to reach audience of urban, affluent, active 20-40 year old readers in millions. If we joined forces, we could reach as many as 30 million readers per day and hence really competing with TV, national magazines etc.
Are you listening RedEye? tbt*? Examiner? Dallas Quick?
    And I would be very happy to create the network together with the local players, which in return means that they could maintain their local strength but adding new revenue.
Are you listening Palo Alto, Conway, Vail, Denver, San Mateo, Santa Monica, etc.?
    In fact, if some company decided to invest say $2-$400 million USD I strongly believe that they could create that national network of newspapers that would be extremely competitive in the national market. A 300.000 circ free newspaper with some 50-70 staffers can be run for less than 20 million USD per year. If created in a network, costs would be significantly less for the following editions.

    Could it happen? I strongly believe so. If the local publishers aren't willing to do it, I'm sure somebody else will do it on their own and hence represent maybe the biggest threat to independent, local publishers.
It is almost as if he is laying down the gauntlet! It's time everybody who is in the free daily business, or wants to be, discuss this.

A few thoughts of my own:

1. Metro is now in New York, Boston and Philadelphia. Tribune has free dailies in Chicago and Baltimore. The Examiner is in San Francisco, Baltimore and Washington. Belo has one in Dallas. Denver has a strong independent. Freedom newspapers has one in suburban Phoenix. Poynter has one in St. Pete, Fla. And there's a gaggle of free dailies in the San Francisco Bay Area and another gaggle in the Colorado Rockies (Vail, Aspen, etc.). There's a free daily network right now if everybody wants to cooperate.

2. Don't be fooled by the doom and gloom reporting about our economy. Smart investors buy low and sell high. Now's the time for free dailies to invest and prepare for a boom ahead.

3. Paid dailies will soon die, but that doesn't mean print journalism is dead. The demand for free dailies is strong. People prefer the format of a printed paper to one that they have to read online. Printed newspapers will be here for many years to come, but large metro dailies which rely on elderly subscribers are doomed.

4. Free dailies have dominated Canada because the major newspaper chains operate both free and paid papers in each market. As readership in paid papers declines, free daily readership increases. Advertisers end up staying with newspapers, which have kept pace with the times.

Let's have a robust discussion about this. Let's get a national network going. Let's push a few paid daily companies into going national with free dailies. Now is the time.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Readers love free daily newspapers

Residents of Palo Alto, California, can't get enough of the free daily newspapers available in their town. The first free daily was the Daily News, which started in 1995 after the collapse of the town's paid circulation daily. The founders of the Daily News, after selling to Knight Ridder four years ago, returned in late May to start the Daily Post. So Palo Alto — the home of Stanford University and many high-tech firms like Hewlett Packard — is seeing a rebound in printed newspapers. It's what the techies might call "Old Media." And, as the Post reports in its July 22 issue, demand for the printed word is soaring:

The part at the end about contacting local businesses seems a bit tacky -- too much like a PBS station beg-a-thon -- but the implication is clear enough: Local advertising makes or breaks these community-oriented free dailies.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Metro CEO proposes network of free dailies

The head of Metro International, the worldwide free daily chain, tells Reuters that free dailies in the U.S. should consider forming a network for the purpose of attracting ad dollars. Mikael Jensen offered the idea as he announced disappointing quarterly results. Jensen said his chain is looking to grow in Latin America, Asia and Russia, while Western Europe and the United States are ripe for consolidation.

We've got an e-mail into Jensen for comments about his national network. Here's a previous posting on U.S. markets served and unserved by free dailies. Metro is now in New York, Boston and Philadelphia. Tribune has free dailies in Chicago and Baltimore. Belo has one in Dallas. There's a solid independent in Denver. Freedom newspapers has one in suburban Phoenix. Poynter has one in St. Pete, Fla. And there's a gaggle of free dailies in the San Francisco Bay Area. Sure, none exist in places like Atlanta, Miami, Houston and L.A., but if the network succeeds, those markets could have papers overnight.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Aspen Daily News marks 30 years

The Aspen (Colorado) Daily News is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a number of stories in its July 20 edition about its history. (See "Editor's Note," "The road to relevancy," Muckraking publisher looks back, "Who needs advertising?" and a time capsule from 1978.)

While it wasn't the first free daily, in this era where media outlets are repeatedly bought and sold, the Aspen Daily News has had the same owner since the beginning, Dave Danforth.

The paper has an independent streak, it tackles controversial subjects and takes pride in the fact that its news coverage has cost it advertisers. The paper's slogan is "If you don't want it printed, don't let it happen."

The Aspen Daily News began as a single-sheet newspaper on July 1, 1978. In a few years, the paper bought a press and switched to newsprint. In 1988, Aspen got its second daily. The Aspen Times, then a weekly, decided to publish a daily to compete for ad dollars that were moving from the weekly to the Aspen Daily News.

It's hard to imagine a town of 12,000 residents supporting two newspapers, but 20 years later, both are still operating. Aspen is, of course, known for its skiing, but the summer season is strong there too. The weakest times of the year for business are the spring and fall, yet both papers year around without interruption. The Aspen Times is six days a week and the Daily News prints seven days. Shown here is the Aspen Daily News press room. The photo is from the paper's website.

In the free daily industry, most of the attention is paid to commuter dailies like Metro, amNewYork, 24 Hours, RedEye, the Examiner chain, and so on. But a format that receives less attention is the community daily, which seems to have a higher number of profitable papers which have been in existence longer than the commuter dailies. Both Aspen papers are examples of quality commuter dailies. And Aspen's competitive zeal has spread to Vail, where that town just got its second free daily earlier this month.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Examiner kills suburban editions in Bay Area

The Examiner chain has been getting a lot of positive press about its plans to introduce a Sunday newspaper in San Francisco, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The new edition starts this Sunday, July 13. The move makes sense if you're delivering to homes because people are usually home on Sundays. Why clutter their driveways or doorsteps with unwanted papers on the other days of the week?

But even with the addition of a Sunday edition, the Examiner is cutting costs. First, it is eliminating Saturday editions in those three markets. In other words, the Saturday product is being repackaged and delivered a day later.

And in the Bay Area, the Examiner is dropping its suburban editions serving communities south of San Francisco in San Mateo County. The Examiner plans to close its bureau there and move those staffers to a San Francisco office. Starting Monday, San Mateo County residents will receive the same Examiner as readers in San Francisco.

The Examiner, in all three markets, will have a large, home-delivered circulation on Thursdays and Sundays. The other days of the week, readers will need to visit the Examiner websites or pick up a paper from a news rack. They won't be delivered to homes as in the past.

Friday, June 27, 2008

California paper cuts 1/4th of newsroom

The Palo Alto (Calif.) Daily News laid off six of its staffers yesterday including five from the newsroom, according to the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club. Given that the free daily only had a newsroom of 20, the cut represents a quarter of the paper's news department.

In addition, the seven-day paper will be reduced to six; its Monday edition will be eliminated. The paper's satellite edition in San Mateo, which lost its Monday edition two years ago, will stop printing on Tuesdays as well.

The Monday edition most recently was 28 pages, according to the Press Club's account. Three years ago, it ranged from 52 to 64 pages.

For several years, the Palo Alto Daily News was seen as one of the most successful free daily newspapers. It was based in Palo Alto, the wealthy home of Stanford University some 35 miles south of San Francisco and 11 miles north of San Jose. Starting in 1995 with an initial eight-page edition, the paper was profitable in nine months and eventually grew to dominate its market area despite competition from traditional dailies and healthy community weeklies. The Daily News branched out and started sister papers in the neighboring towns of San Mateo, Burlingame, Redwood City and Los Gatos. The five papers comprised a company that was known as the Daily News Group.

Owners Dave Price and Jim Pavelich sold the Daily News Group in 2005 to Knight Ridder for $25 million, which is probably a record for a free daily newspaper. The acquisition provided some breathing room for Knight Ridder's San Jose Mercury News, which had been struggling to sell ads in the Palo Alto area due to the Daily News.

MediaNews Group, headed by cost-cutting CEO Dean Singleton of Denver, acquired the Daily News Group when his company bought the San Jose Mercury and a handful of other Knight Ridder papers in 2006 for $1 billion.

Since the original sale, the Daily News has gone through a series of editors and its been redesigned. The paper's emphasis on local news changed. A recent edition contained only three locally bylined stories but more than two dozen wire service articles. And the Palo Alto Daily News literally moved out of Palo Alto to an office park in Menlo Park.

The changes apparently prompted previous owners Price and Pavelich — once their noncompete agreements had expired — to return to the market with a new paper, the Daily Post, which premiered May 27. They opened their offices in the building the Daily News abandoned when it left town. Their bet is that the readers and advertisers still want a local free daily.

The Daily News hasn't said what prompted yesterday's cuts, whether it was problems in Palo Alto or at its parent company. It should be pointed out that other MediaNews papers in San Jose and Walnut Creek, Calif., were laying off employees last week as well. Credit rating agencies say the company is at risk of defaulting on its loans.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Paper that 'lost touch' gets a competitor

The founder of the Vail Daily, who sold that free daily to Swift Newspapers in 1993, on Friday launched another daily in that Colorado resort town.

The first edition of Jim Pavelich's new Vail Mountaineer was eight pages. It contained about 50 percent advertising from local businesses.

Pavelich said he started the Mountaineer because he is frustrated with the direction the Vail Daily has gone in recent years.

“It was the biggest tourist holiday of the year, and the big headline on the front page, and I’m paraphrasing, said something like, ‘I hate living here.’ And although I don’t remember the details, I remember that the headline was so unbelievably negative about nothing,” Pavelich told “I understand this is a real town with real issues, but they’ve lost touch.”

The Mountaineer was the second free daily Pavelich started in the past month. On May 27, Pavelich and Dave Price started the Palo Alto (Calif.) Daily Post. The Post is going up against a newspaper the pair sold in 2005, the Palo Alto Daily News, one of the most successful community free dailies. The now defunct Knight Ridder bought the Palo Alto Daily News for $25 million in 2005; in 2006 it was acquired by MediaNews Group.

Non-competition agreements from both sales have expired, allowing the former owners back into these markets.

In both cases, the new papers are entering markets where readers are already hooked on getting their news from free daily newspapers.

Vail isn't the only Colorado market where two free dailies are competing. Swift's Aspen Times has been going head-to-head with the independent Aspen Daily News for 20 years.

Despite the economic downturn and pessimism about newspapers, the Mountaineer is the fifth free daily to open in 2008. The others are in Baltimore; Halifax, N.S.; Salt Lake City and Palo Alto. Since the beginning of the year, BostonNOW has closed, the Manchester (N.H.) Express switched to a weekly, and the Nashville City Paper transitioned to an online product with a semi-weekly print editions.

This Examiner doesn't belong to Anschutz

With a net worth last year at $7.4 billion (according to Forbes) and with gas prices soaring above $4 a gallon, it's our guess that oilman Phil Anschutz hasn't pushed a cart through a supermarket recently. If he had, the owner of the Examiner chain of newspapers would have encountered an Examiner he doesn't own. On the left is a front page from one of his Examiner newspapers and on the right is the "National Examiner," owned by American Media Corporation of Boca Raton, Fla., which also owns The National Enquirer, Star, Globe and Sun titles. Any attempt by Anschutz to go national with the Examiner probably won't be received well by American Media, which owns the National Examiner brand name. You've got to wonder if Anschutz's newspaper people, such as Ryan McKibben, knew this before announcing plans for a national rollout of the Examiner brand in 2004. That rollout, planned for 70 markets, stopped after three cities. Now it appears that the Anschutz Examiners are copying the National Examiner by putting crime and celebrity stories on the front cover.

Note: The Examiner chain has launched its attack on Democrats who oppose drilling for more oil. This editorial, however, omits any disclosure that the newspaper is owned by an oil industry tycoon.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Random notes & observations

AWARDS: The rap against free dailies is that their journalism is inferior. Well, in the San Francisco Bay Area, the big winner in the Greater Bay Area Journalism Awards was the paid San Jose Mercury News, with 31 plaques. But in second was the free San Mateo Daily Journal with 23 awards. The Palo Alto Daily News group wasn't far behind with 17 ...

QUICK DOESN'T MEAN QUICK READ: The Dallas Morning News has announced it plans to print a free 16-page broadsheet newspaper called Briefing, which will be thrown on the driveways of non-subscribers in high-income areas. Management is going out of its way to emphasize that the 200,000 circulation Briefing won't be anything like Quick, its 100,000 circulation free daily. “Quick is single-copy,” DMN president and gm John McKeon told E&P, whereas Briefing "is home-delivered. Quick is a tabloid, and Briefing is a broadsheet. Quick is a younger product, and the sweet spot for Briefing is 25-49. It does fill out a portfolio of products to serve different readers.” ...

ENTERTAINMENT? The Washington Examiner is planning to launch an entertainment oriented website. Given the conservative Christian views of owner Phil Anschutz, it will be interesting to see what the site defines as entertainment. Anschutz has produced movies such as the "The Chronicles of Narnia" series, which reinforce his beliefs. A lot of Hollywood keeps its distance from Anschutz since he has bankrolled anti-gay rights ballot measures.

SPEAKING OF ANSCHUTZ, various newspapers including the Wall Street Journal say that the Denver billionaire will be going on trial June 23 for failing to pay $140 million in taxes. The San Francisco Peninsula Press Club website says that his Examiner and City Star newspapers haven't mentioned a word about the case.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Why would this free daily succeed?


The San Francisco Bay Area has become the most saturated place in the country for free dailies. But that hasn't stopped another one from starting. Today, the Palo Alto Daily Post began publishing, becoming that city's second free daily. It's the third paper in that town of 60,000 people if you include a weekly paper. And it doesn't have a website or an online, multi-platform strategy. Yikes!

At this point, you'd think the Palo Alto Daily Post would have two strikes against it -- a lot of competition and no desire to go online.

On the other hand, I can think of three reasons why the smart money would bet on the success of this paper:
    1. The Post's publishers are entering a market already accustomed to the free daily concept.

    2. This paper has figured out that the Internet doesn't help them. Think of all the readership printed newspapers have lost because they put their stories online. People now know that if they want to read a scoop, they should go online. But online advertising isn't working out for newspapers. Nobody is able to fund the costs of newsgathering with an online edition. Maybe the Post guys have figured that out.

    3. And the Post guys are none other than Dave Price and Jim Pavelich, who have started several profitable free daily newspapers over the years in Colorado and California. They know what they're doing.
Oh, and one more thing. They know Palo Alto. They started the Palo Alto Daily News in 1995, which became arguably the most successful community free daily in the nation ("community" as distinguished from "commuter"). Under their aegis, the paper added editions in a number of surrounding cities. And they sold the paper in 2005 for $25 million, according to the following article in the New York Sun headlined "Heresy in Silicon Valley: Traditional Newspaper Launches." Here are a few excerpts:
    In another act of brazen heresy against the prevailing dot-com culture here, the Palo Alto Daily Post, which published its first issue yesterday, has no Web site. At a time when most newspaper owners are looking to the Internet to revive their struggling industry, the new paper's owners, James Pavelich and David Price, brusquely dismiss the need for an online presence.

    "We're a newspaper," Mr. Pavelich said in an interview yesterday as he returned from shuttling his inaugural edition to newsboxes around town. "The Internet is a form of broadcast to me. We're not broadcasters. We just don't have the time to run two businesses."

    ... Earlier this year, the Daily News moved its offices out of Palo Alto, to neighboring Menlo Park. Messrs. Pavelich and Price swooped in, tweaking the competition by renting space in the same building it just vacated. "It was kind of comical to us and we jumped at it," Mr. Pavelich said.

    Executives at the Daily News did not return calls seeking comment.

    ... The Daily Post's inaugural issue featured articles about city volunteers quitting over mandatory fingerprinting and a physician facing charges for prescribing medicine over the Internet to a Stanford student who committed suicide. At 28 pages, the paper is just a tad thinner than the gaunt metropolitan dailies from San Francisco and San Jose.
Alan Mutter took a decidedly negative tone about what he described as a newspaper war brewing in Silicon Valley:
    While Palo Alto is an economically and demographically succulent market where real estate prices continue to climb even to this day, the upscale community hardly seems like a place where multiple, profitable free newspapers would be likely to thrive.
Mutter goes on to say that, in his opinion, Palo Alto isn't a good place for free newspapers and that the subway terminals that Metro attempts to dominate are far better vehicles.

OK, in a year or two we will see who is right. In his interview with the New York Sun, Dave Price points out that when he started the Palo Alto Daily News in 1995 "we had a number of people who were supposedly experts in the newspaper industry saying we wouldn't last six months ... We proved them wrong. Not only was the paper a success in a business sense, it won a tremendous number of awards."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cablevision empire adds amNewYork

The profitable, 300,000-plus free daily amNew York will be sold, along with its parent Newsday, to Cablevision for $650 million in a bid that has critics howling. They say Cablevision overpaid and they question whether profits from Newsday will even cover the debt service for $650 million. Newsday had profits of $90 million last year, which means Cablevision is willing to pay 6.5 to 7 times cash flow.

What this means to amNewYork is anybody's guess. There has been little media coverage about that part of the deal. It's hard to imagine amNewYork being sold off since it depends greatly on Newsday for content and ads. But if Cablevision overpaid, cutbacks will certainly follow at the newspapers which could hobble amNewYork at a stage when it is becoming a force in New York media.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Examiner cuts back on home delivery days

The Examiner announced Thursday that it only deliver papers to homes two days a week in its three markets, San Francisco, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

The Examiner is also moving its "weekend edition" from Saturday to Sunday starting July 13.

As a result, the Examiner will no longer be distributed to homes or businesses on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays or Saturdays. On those days, the paper will only be available in news racks and stores.

The move will likely reduce complaints about unwanted Examiners being thrown on driveways and doorsteps.

Like other newspapers that have reduced the number of days they publish, the Examiner is emphasizing that its web site will be beefed up.

It wasn't immediately known why billionaire oilman Phil Anschutz would trim the sales of his newspapers. With oil at $122 a barrel, gas at $4 a gallon and movie tickets at $9.50 (he's the nation's largest owner of cinemas), it's hard to imagine him noticing that his newspapers were losing money.

But there is a famous story about Anschutz's aversion to losing money. He set up his son-in-law, Tim Brown, with an AM radio station in Denver in 2002. The 10,000-watt station lost money, which reportedly angered Anschutz. One day in 2004, Anschutz walked into the station and ordered that the power be cut immediately. He shut down the station on the spot. As employees walked out of the darkened building, they were handed their final checks. His son-in-law was quoted in the Denver Post as saying it was the hardest day of his life.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

RedEye weekend edition hits 100,000 mark

RedEye, the Chicago Tribune's free daily, is reporting that its year-old weekend edition now has 100,000 opt-in subscribers.

The news comes as the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations show that the Tribune's daily circulation had fallen 4.4 percent in the past six months to 541,663 and its Sunday edition had dropped 4.6 percent to 898,703. The growth in RedEye's readership has more than exceeded the Tribune's losses during the period.

The Monday-Friday RedEye edition has a circulation of about 200,000. But with an estimated pass-along rate of 1:4, RedEye says its readership is about 800,000. In fact, a Gallup survey commissioned by RedEye says its readership grew 17 percent over the previous year.

The weekend edition is distributed free to readers who sign up, or "opt-in," for delivery. Unlike the Examiner chain, which indiscriminately throws its papers on doorsteps and driveways in San Francisco, Washington and Baltimore, the weekend RedEye only goes to where it is wanted. Not surprisingly, advertisers like this approach.

"RedEye Weekend has been embraced by readers and provides Best Buy with a unique way to reach engaged consumers with an advertising message aimed at showing customers 'why Best Buy this week,'" Marsha Lawrence, senior strategist at Best Buy, said in a press release from RedEye announcing the 100,000 milestone.

The release quotes RedEye GM Brad Moore as saying, "We've developed a loyal following with our readers and getting 100,000
of them to sign up for a home-delivered weekend edition further validates it. ... We're excited about the opportunity this provides for advertisers looking to target them at the Zip code level."

RedEye says that several features developed for its weekend edition have developed a strong following in the past year including the Weekend Playlist, Deja View, Pop Picks and a fashion column by Clinton Kelly (from TLC's "What Not to Wear").

"RedEye is for Chicagoans who value their time as much as the news and information that helps them lead socially active lives, so we couldn't just leave them hanging without their fix on the weekend," said Tran Ha, editor of RedEye's weekend edition.