Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Palo Alto paper goes from tab to broadsheet

    CORRECTION: The following item incorrectly stated that the Daily News in Palo Alto, Calif., was the first free daily to go broadsheet. Actually, the Starkville (Mississippi) Dispatch has that distinction, launching on June 8, 2009. Our thanks to Peter Imes of the Dispatch for pointing out the error — Nov. 17, 2009
The pioneering Daily News in Palo Alto has made another innovative move — switching this morning from a tabloid to a full-sized broadsheet. Free-Daily.com first reported the change July 25.

The move is certainly a risk. Part of the distinctive style of the successful Daily News (formerly the Palo Alto Daily News) was its compact "long-tab" format, 11- by 16.25-inches. The size allowed it to display three or four news stories on the front as well as a strip of ads at the bottom. The format, which debuted in 1995, has been frequently copied.

But a risk is probably what the Daily News has got to take at this point in its history. For its first 10 years (1995-2005), the paper was a major success story, with its circulation going from 3,000 to 67,000 per day. The page count ranged up to 100 per day. Each edition carried a couple hundred local ads. It sprouted sister papers in five other San Francisco Bay Area communities.

In 2005, the original owners sold the paper and ownership changed a couple of times, from Knight Ridder to McClatchy and now to MediaNews Group, a chain known for cost-cutting, not innovation. Changes by new management, including the firing of a popular editor, jolted the paper's momentum into reverse. Before long, the Daily News was closing editions, laying off employees and desperately making format changes to stop the slide.

To make matters worse, the former owners opened a competing paper, The Daily Post.

In May, local management decided to switch the Daily News switched from the long-tab to a short tab (10.75- x 11.375 inches). A source said the Daily News switched from a commercial printer to presses operated by a sister paper in San Jose, Calif. The San Jose pressmen didn't want to print the long tab size paper that the Palo Alto Daily News had been using.

The move wasn't communicated to the boss of MediaNews Group, Dean Singleton, who was furious when he saw the small format. He likes broadsheets.

While the broadsheet size gives the Daily News several advantages:
    1. Many advertisers prefer to buy full-pages in broadsheets and balk at tabloids.

    2. MediaNews owns other dailies in the Bay Area, and all are broadsheets. Converting the Daily News to the same size pages as the other papers would make it easier for publications to share pages and ads.

    3. Some readers feel tabloid-sized papers are trashy while broadsheets represent higher-caliber papers. (I completely disagree with that sentiment, but I know some people feel that way.)
It's been a rough couple of years for the Daily News. Obviously management hopes this move will get the paper back on track.