Friday, July 09, 2010

10 ways to improve your distribution

A reader of this blog asked me if I had any ideas on how to improve his circulation. I told him to stop smoking and take a brisk walk every morning.

As for the delivery of newspapers, I wish I had a cute one-liner. Transportation and delivery logistics are one of the most difficult challenges facing any free daily newspaper. No matter how strong your news coverage is, no matter how aggressive your ad reps are, you can't succeed unless you deliver the product to readers. And, sad to say, ads in online editions just don't bring in the dollars you can get through print advertising.

The following is my attempt to bring together the best ideas I've heard regarding distribution. Very few of them are original, but I'm not sure if those who offered their ideas wanted their names associated with them or not, so I won't attribute my sources. Here goes.
    1. For free papers, news racks are essential. If you can't buy new racks, get used ones. Calls to landfill managers and recycling plants can be helpful -- let them know that if they ever see any old racks they should give you a call. Sometimes all an old rack needs is a good paint job. And remember, you don't need the coin mechanism if you're free, so rip it out before you put the rack on the streets.
    2. Avoid throwing a bundle of papers at the front door of a restaurant or retailer who is supposed to display your papers. Sure, some employees of these businesses might figure out that they should place your papers inside where customers can grab them. But many businesses have a lot of turnover, and the next employee might regard your bundle as trash. Instead, when the business opens, you might have a delivery person return to place the papers inside.

    3. If possible, hire a daytime delivery person or persons to walk a downtown district. This person's job might not be so much a delivery job as much as a job to make sure that papers delivered earlier got to the right distribution points. This person could also help with the paper's public relations by listening to businesses who have complaints about delivery and establishing new distribution points. I think it was the San Mateo (California) Daily Journal who called these people "ambassadors" -- a good title.

    4. Know your news rack ordinances. Most cities put them online. Look for the municipal code on the city's website. If it's not there, go to the city's Planning Department or Code Enforcement office and ask for a copy.

    5. City officials don't like complaints from residents or businesses. Keep this in mind when you're placing a new rack. Even if the rack is perfectly legal under the code, if it becomes controversial, you'll have to move it -- or get into a time-consuming fight.
    6. In many cities, competing newspapers work together to install modular racks for several papers. If you're not aware of this practice, call your competitors and ask. You'll have to pay your share for rack units and installation, but you don't want to be left out of the next modular unit that's installed.

    7. Avoid inserts. Inserts tend to fall out of a stack of papers and make a mess on the floor. If you're distributing inside a business, the mess might jeopardize your ability to distribute there in the future.

    8. Check on delivery people. Make time to personally check routes. With a free paper, it's too easy for a delivery person to dump their papers in the trash and skip the route. Develop a list of business people you can call to ask if your papers were delivered to their establishments. Include a note in your paper that asks readers to call if they can't find today's paper. This will help you determine which stops need more papers in the future.

    9. Eliminate stops where only one or two papers are delivered. The more stops where you can deliver large quantities, the faster a route can be done. Remember, newspapers are a mass medium.

    10. Aim to complete deliveries by automobile before rush hour. Once people start crowding the roads on their way to work, delivery becomes much harder, and the productivity of your drivers declines greatly. If you need more time to deliver, negotiate an earlier deadline with your newsroom. Is your paper so time-sensitive that the current deadline is essential? What's more important -- getting that last West Coast score into your sports section, or delivering thousands more papers before deadline?
If you have other ideas on how to improve delivery, please e-mail me at

Lauletta returns to Metro as circulation director

While we're on the subject of circulation ... Joseph Lauletta has returned to Metro as U.S. circulation director. He was Metro’s circulation director from 2000-05 in Philadelphia and helped launch editions in Toronto, Montreal, Boston and New York for Pelle Tornberg, the former Metro International CEO who now heads the Metro U.S. editions. After 2005, Lauletta went on to be Knight Ridder’s national distribution manager for free products and most recently was the circulation director for the Palo Alto (California) Daily News.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Publisher bungles editor's resignation

Nobody likes getting scooped. But it's even worse when the competition gets the scoop out of your own newsroom.

That's apparently what happened at the free circulation San Francisco Examiner when executive editor James Pimentel resigned on June 18.

For whatever reason, Publisher John Wilcox didn't run a story saying Pimentel was leaving the paper. Pimentel had been the paper's top editor for four years and had worked at the Examiner since 2001.

Four days later, an online newspaper, SF Appeal, reported that Pimentel had departed the paper and that Wilcox had held a staff meeting to tell employees about it.

The SF Appeal story left the impression that Pimentel was shown the door.

The next day, probably in response to the SF Appeal's report, the Examiner ran a story saying that Pimentel had resigned as editor but will remain with the Examiner's parent company, Clarity Media Group, to work on a redesign of its newspaper websites.

It's a shame Wilcox couldn't have printed a story about Pimentel's resignation/promotion earlier, instead of being scooped by an online newspaper that appears to have been incorrect in some of its reporting. If the resignation/promotion claim is true, then Wilcox botched the announcement, needlessly damaging Pimentel's reputation.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Metro New York launches zoned edition

Metro New York, which reports a daily circulation of 314,113, has launched a 40,000-circulation edition on Thursdays for the borough of Queens. The new edition allows Metro to sell ads at a lower rate in just that area of New York City.

“Advertisers want to target their local market in the most efficient way," says Ed Abrams, Executive Sales Director, Metro New York. “This Queen’s zoned edition is a chance to get [the advertiser’s] sales message in front of your most-likely customers: those who live or work near your business.”

The zoned edition is one of several innovations by the U.S. Metro papers after they were taken over last year by former Metro International chief executive Pelle Tornberg. The three Metros -- New York, Boston and Philadelphia -- have undergone successful redesigns. The amount of advertising has improved, and the ads are mostly from major national and regional accounts. Zoning will allow Metro to go after smaller advertisers that haven't been able to afford newspaper ads.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Toronto paper tells its story with video

Everybody in the free daily newspaper industry should watch the five-minute promotional video the new Toronto evening paper "t.o.night" has created. Not only is the video an effective sales tool for t.o.night, it also makes case for why free dailies are popular with readers.

Toronto t.o.night started last September with newsboys and girls dressed in poorboy caps and white oxford shirts yelling "Extra! Extra!" as they handed out copies to people on the streets. As the video notes, the paper is owned by three local residents and therefore has a more independent view than chain papers. The video also shows how t.o.night fills a need in Toronto -- the city has six morning papers, but t.o.night is alone during the evening commute, serving up stories that happened earlier in the day.

"Evening free dailies have proven successful globally, especially in similar Commonwealth countries (ex: Australia, United Kingdom) countering the argument that commuters catch up on all their news on the Internet at work," t.o.night says on its website. "An evening newspaper catches the consumer right before they make their plans and purchases for the evening -- not 8-10 hrs. before. T.o.night is the last opportunity advertisers have to reach consumers directly before they make their final decisions."

Editor out after offering cop favorable coverage

The editor of the Aspen (Colorado) Daily News, who was caught on tape offering favorable coverage to a police officer in exchange for not charging him with drunken driving, has left his job by "mutual agreement," the rival Aspen Times reports.

Troy Hooper will be replaced by Carolyn Sackariason, who had previously worked at the Aspen Daily News and later co-founded the Santa Monica (California) Daily Press in 2001 with Daily News owner Dave Danforth. Since May 2007, Sackariason has been a reporter at the Aspen Times.

“I’m coming back to my roots,” Sackariason told the Aspen Daily News. “It’s where I started in this valley and where I plan to remain forever. I’m also getting back with my business partner who has also been my mentor.”

Sackariason succeeds Troy Hooper, who had been the editor of the Aspen Daily News since 2007. On Feb. 19, according to local newspaper reports, Hooper got a ride home from Aspen Police Officer Valerie McFarlane, who is a key prosecution witness in the Charlie Sheen domestic violence case. However, after the tape made by McFarlane's police car came to light, police fired her effective Feb. 26.

The Times quoted Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor as saying there was an apparent conflict of interest at the time McFarlane encountered Hooper because the editor had written stories about her personnel problems at the police department.

On March 17, Aspen Daily News owner Danforth suspended Hooper, saying he was concerned for the reputation of his paper. Both the Aspen Times and Daily News are free dailies.

The Daily News polled readers on its website, asking if Hooper should have been suspended. With 503 votes cast, 47% said "Yes, and a harsher punishment should be imposed." Another 25% said, "Yes, it's an issue of integrity for the head of the paper."

Danforth's paper announced Hooper's departure on Thursday, saying the decision was by "mutual agreement," according to the Times. But Danforth left open the door that Hooper might return. "He's a very talented writer and a very talented editor,” Danforth said. “I very much look forward to when we might see Hooper's writing again in the Daily News.”

Hooper declined to comment on his departure to the Aspen Times, and would not say whether he was dismissed or resigned.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Looking for a job? Free dailies are hiring

While the paid-newspaper industry has been endlessly laying off journalists, free dailies are hiring. Take a look at Six free dailies have job openings:

Metro Boston is looking for a reporter. "This position is part our local news team, and will be part of a two-person reporting crew responsible for but not limited to covering the city of Boston in a way that will keep our readers informed, interested and intrigued. To further our efforts of reaching our core demographic -- 18-34 city-centric upwardly mobile men and women -- we must not only report the news, but find and package it in a way that makes it relevant to our readers. We produce a paper with our readers’ lifestyle in mind, and we are looking for a reporter who can do the same." In addition, "Metro offers a full benefits package (including medical, dental, 401K, paid vacation and more) along with a competitive base salary."

• The Telluride Daily Planet, a 5,000 circulation, five-day-a-week paper, is seeking a reporter who will "cover everything from the Telluride Bluegrass and Film festivals to $300 million bank fraud cases. This small town generates ample news and we need someone to help us sort through it to provide clear, accurate and insightful stories. This is by all means a blanket beat; you'll be asked to cover governments, sports, businesses and the ski area, not to mention anything else that comes along. We're a staff of three (yourself included), so you need to be comfortable working in every facet of small-town newspapering: copy editing, pulling wire off the AP, taking a photo, updating the Web site — it all comes down to you. We expect about two stories a day, with longer features for our Sunday papers. If you aren't a clean, self-reliant writer this isn't the post for you. Your work week is usually Tuesday-Saturday, and we go down to four days a week in the shoulder season (six weeks or so in both the spring and fall)."

• In Palo Alto, California, the town's most controversial paper, The Daily Post, is looking for a reporter. "Palo Alto never has a slow news day. Our challenge is covering all of the news that happens here." The ad includes a link to a New York Times story about the newspaper war in that town, where the publisher of the paper, Dave Price, is labeled a "contrarian."

• The Washington Examiner is looking for freelancers to cover real estate. "Some assignments may be only once or twice a year while some could develop into a regular weekly check. You can set your own hours as long as you meet deadlines and are able to report in a professional manner on the real estate, design and building communities." One word of caution, though: while the Examiner is big on the Internet, don't send the real estate editor links to your stories -- she wants clips of printed articles.

• The best job advertised is that of Entertainment Editor at The Washington Post's free daily, The Express. "The ideal candidate will have a solid working knowledge of pop culture and at least two years' experience in a news-gathering environment. He or she must demonstrate seasoned editorial judgment and a mastery of grammar, story-telling structure and AP style. Exceptional headline- and caption-writing skills are essential, as are basic skills in online publishing and page layout. A keen sense of humor is key."

Who could pass up a job where a sense of humor is key?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Aspen paper silent after editor let off of DUI charge

In Aspen, Colorado — a city with two free daily newspapers — a police officer has been fired after she decided not to charge the editor of one of the papers with DUI following a conversation in which he offered her favorable coverage.

A 26-minute conversation between Aspen Daily News Editor Troy Hooper and Officer Valerie McFarlane was caught on a recording device in her police car, according to the rival Aspen Times.

On the tape of the Feb. 19 episode, Hooper discussed his coverage of the police department, including his reporting on McFarlane.

"You have also been fairly or unfairly put in a position. Not only am I willing to give you the opportunity to walk away from that, I'll give you a few of those opportunities, I really will."

He thanks McFarlane “for not f----ing with me as bad as you could have.”

He continues: “I want to give you a second chance just like you are giving me a second chance. Easily you could put me in jail and say ‘You know what, this guy's been drinking, blah, blah, blah' ... You could find a case. It wouldn't go very far. I have good attorneys, but ...”

The police department fired McFarlane on Feb. 26, but what about Hooper? So far the Aspen Daily News, owned by Dave Danforth, hasn't written a word about the story, though Hooper's name continues to appear on bylines and in the staff box of his own paper.

Meanwhile, The Aspen Times is not only running stories about the incident but also letters to the editor from readers.

In one letter, reader Denise Malcolm suggested the Daily News change its slogan of "If you don't want it printed, don't let it happen” to “If you don't want it printed, then strike a deal with one of our ethically challenged reporters or editors.”

Paper drops home delivery program

The Santa Barbara Daily Sound, a free daily, is dropping its home delivery program "because of the current economic situation."

The Daily Sound, which started in 2006, began delivering to homes on April 29, 2008, a move that increased its circulation to an even 10,000.

"With significantly less demand than our free distribution, home delivery simply was too costly for us to continue."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

New owner of Arizona paper cuts newsroom

Veteran free-daily publisher Randy Miller wasted no time to cut costs after receiving a bankruptcy judge's approval to buy the East Valley Tribune in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa. The Phoenix Business Journal says Miller laid off roughly two dozen people in the Tribune's newsroom, leaving a staff of 14. Miller is the former publisher of the Colorado Daily in Boulder and currently owns the Telluride (Colorado) Daily Planet and Tucson's alt-weekly, The Explorer. He bought the Tribune from Freedom Communicationsn of Irvine, Calif. The deal reportedly included presses Freedom installed a couple of years ago for $4 million.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Palo Alto free daily war gets national play

The New York Times has discovered there's a newspaper war in Palo Alto, California. But what the article downplays is that the battle is between two FREE daily newspapers.

In one corner is the Palo Alto Daily News, founded in 1995 by Dave Price (pictured in front of his news racks) and Jim Pavelich. They sold the paper and now its owned by MediaNews Group, a chain of 54 newspapers. In the other corner is the Daily Post, the paper Price and Pavelich started in 2008.

While downplaying the free angle, the Times article emphasizes the importance of local news coverage and an active editorial page in the success of a free daily paper. For the record, both the Post and Daily News maintain they're in the black.

When it comes to editorial page perspectives, the Times article quotes local officials as criticizing the Post. You can infer that they probably like the other papers in the community. Price is pleased to be criticized by government officials, saying his paper is tougher than its rivals.

It appears the two free dailies are serving up much more news than one monopoly local paper would.

The Times quotes a local high school journalism teacher, Esther Wojcicki, as saying: “I am really happy that we have all these papers ... I wish that kind of choice were available to more people in more areas.”

Friday, February 19, 2010

Court OK needed for sale of Arizona paper

Randy Miller, former owner of the free Colorado Daily in Boulder, is inching closer to becoming the owner of the Pulizer Prize-winning East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Ariz., also a free daily.

Miller has been in talks with the Tribune's owner, Freedom Communications of Irvine, Calif., since late last year. Initially, he wanted to only buy the Tribune, but a new deal that is before the court handling Freedom's bankruptcy calls for him to also buy some of the weekly papers the Trib publishes.

Freedom is hoping for court approval in March. Court papers put the purchase price at $2.05 million.

Freedom said it is selling the Tribune at a loss, according to a report in the Tribune. The chain is losing about $20,000 a week on its suburban Phoenix papers. Miller has said he hopes to keep a "substantial number" of the Tribune's remaining 140 employees.

Miller, who sold the Colorado Daily in 2007, owns a 50,000-circulation free-distribution weekly in suburban north Tucson and the Telluride (Colo.) Daily Planet, a free daily.

The Tribune switched from paid to free in October 2007. But earlier this year owner Freedom Communications entered into Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, which forced the company to either close or sell unprofitable operations. Freedom put the Tribune up for sale, and if no buyer was found by Dec. 31, the paper was to close.

The Tribune won a Pulitzer last year for a series that showed how a sheriff's emphasis on enforcing immigration laws reduced response times for other types of crime.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Metro is the first free daily? Not exactly

We chuckled this morning when we read this news release in which Metro, the Swedish-based chain of free dailies, claimed it was "the first ever free daily newspaper."

Metro's claim must have come as surprise to the people working at free dailies in places like Boulder, Vail, Aspen, Conway, N.H., and Palo Alto, California.

While Metro says it was the first free daily (starting in 1995), The Colorado Daily in Boulder is actually the oldest continually operating free daily newspaper.

It had been a student newspaper at the University of Colorado until the spring of 1970 when the school's regents kicked it off campus for its editorials against the Vietnam War. To survive without assistance from the university, the Colorado Daily became a community newspaper. But unlike traditional community papers, the Colorado Daily remained free and stuck with its tabloid-size format.

I don't think it's a coincidence that Colorado today has more free dailies than any other state.

Before the Colorado Daily, there were two other free dailies -- the San Fernando Valley's Los Angeles Daily News and the Contra Costa Times, based in Walnut Creek, Calif., east of San Francisco. However, the Contra Costa paper switched to paid in the 1960s and L.A. Daily News began charging in 1982.

When Metro started in 1995, the Colorado Daily had been an independent free community daily for 15 years. The next free daily was the Aspen Daily News, which was started by Dave Danforth in 1979. For the first several years, Danforth's paper was printed on a single sheet of paper on a sheet-fed press. In 1984, Jim Pavelich began the Vail Daily. In 1988, the Aspen paper got a competitor when Dave Price converted the weekly in that ski resort town to a daily. In 1989, Mark Guerringue and Adam Hirshan started the Conway Daily Sun in a New Hampshire ski town. The Sun has since launched free dailies in Berlin, Laconia, and most recently the Portland, Maine, Daily Sun.

In 1995, the year Metro started in Sweden, the Palo Alto Daily News began in Northern California. Unlike Metro, which took years to show any profit, the Palo Alto paper hit break-even nine months after opening. Ten years later, the Daily News was sold to Knight Ridder for $25 million, a record price for any free daily.

A lot of history in the free-daily industry took place before the first issue of Metro ever hit the streets. We're not sure why Metro is daring enough to issue an inaccurate news release, but it hurts the credibility of a news organization that relies upon the public's trust.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Name of Denver free daily is hijacked online

Kristie Hannon, publisher of the free Denver Daily News, was surprised as anyone to discover there was a Web site calling itself the Denver Daily News that was publishing local news stories.

What's worse, this faux Denver Daily News site was taking stories from other Denver publications and randomly changing words, sort of like the game Mad Libs, where players randomly change words in a story or song.

The Denver alt-weekly Westword gave this example. A Denver Post story originally reported this: "A sexual assault on a 13-year-old girl and a subsequent attack on her brother has resulted in multiple charges against the suspect."

The fake Denver Daily News site reported it this way: "A passionate conflict upon a 13-year-old lady as well as a successive conflict upon her hermit has resulted in mixed charges opposite a suspect."

Hannon has sent an e-mail to the site, which is registered in Denmark, telling it to stop. The fake site is violating both the Denver Daily News trademark as well as the copyright on the stories it is lifting and changing.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bankruptcy filing squeezes free daily

Fifteen years after it started, there is cause for concern about the future of California's first and most successful free daily, the Palo Alto Daily News. Its owner, MediaNews Group, has made several damaging changes and now has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

For many years, the Daily News was the poster boy for free daily newspapers. The Daily News grew and dominated its marketplace south of San Francisco. It was acquired by Knight Ridder for $25 million in 2005 — a record price for a paper its size.

The timing of the paper's owners to sell was fortuitous. A year later, shareholder revolt later that year forced Knight Ridder to sell off its papers and shut down. The Palo Alto paper was shunted off to MediaNews, a chain known more for cost cutting than great journalism. Not surprisingly, the Daily News closed the sister editions it has started in Berkeley, San Mateo, Burlingame, Redwood City and Los Gatos. It also stopped printing on Sunday and Monday.

In the past year, the Daily News dropped its distinctive page size (16 inches deep by 10 3/4-inches wide, known as a long tab). First it went to a short tab, which is almost a square (11-1/4 by 11-3/8 inches). Then, as reported, MediaNews chief executive Dean Singleton became irate when he learned of the change. He ordered the paper become a broadsheet, like its other newspapers in the Bay Area.

Now MediaNews is in bankruptcy court in Delaware, hoping a judge will reduce its debts from $930 million to $178 million. The filing is a "prepackaged" bankruptcy where the creditors (mostly banks) agreed upfront to allow the debt-reduction deal. The company's two top executives, CEO Dean Singleton and President Jody Lodovic, will be paid up to $1.49 million and $2.25 million, respectively, if the bankruptcy plan is approved March 4, according to the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club.

Once the bankruptcy is over, and huge debt-service payments are no longer an issue, MediaNews will be expected to produce profits that are within industry averages. Assets that don't produce profits will be closed.

Cost-cutting has crippled the Daily News, and it remains to be seen if its new format is a success. Given the need of Singleton and Lodovic to impress their owners with profits, one wonders how much time the Daily News will have to return to health.

Newspapers owned by MediaNews have avoided reporting information concerning its bankruptcy filing (Example 1, Example 2). Ironically, two of the most insightful stories about the case ("Post owner: don't shut off our phones" and "Execs cash in on Post parent bankruptcy") have been printed in the Denver Daily News, owned by the original owners of the Palo Alto Daily News, Jim Pavelich and Dave Price.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Portland (Maine) free daily is intensely local

A veteran of the free daily industry has started a paper in Portland, Maine, that is intensely local. Of the issues we've seen of the Portland Daily Sun, every story on the front page has been local, and the body of the paper has been dominated by local copy. This is a different breed from the commuter free dailies that rely on wire copy. It is obvious that the editor, Curtis Robinson, lives, breathes and eats local news.

Robinson (left) helped free daily pioneer Jim Pavelich start the Summit Daily News in August 1989. He went on to the short-lived Ventura (California) Today. Later he was editor of the Aspen (Colorado) Daily News. Then he helped to start an independent Sunday-only paper in the valley that includes Aspen.

The Portland Daily Sun began in February 2009 and has a daily circulation of 14,000. It publishes Tuesday through Saturday. Robinson is partners with Adam Hirsham and Mark Guerringue of the Conway Daily Sun, a free daily community paper that has operated since 1989. The Conway paper's press prints the Portland paper. Hirsham and Guerringue are investors in free dailies in Berlin, N.H., and Livonia, N.H. Those papers also have the word "sun" in their name, suggesting the sun is rising all over New England. asked Robinson the following questions: Why Portland?

Robinson: I have some family here (I'm a widower with a five-year-old son) and it scored in the 90 percent range for launching a free daily, and I wanted to do something East Coast, but I looked at six finalists before deciding ... and the real thing is that I just fell in love with Portland, a diverse, progressive urban area in a state that is perhaps less so — and love of place always helps if you're about to work 60-hour weeks. I also had the chance to partner with a couple of free daily veterans — they own three free dailies in New Hampshire, and one of those is in North Conway, about an hour from Portland. We're a separate setup, but really benefit from their established business practices, and of course the press. So it just felt right. What makes Portland a good place to start a free daily?

Robinson: Alchemy of people, place and such. I've developed a 25-point checklist and consult with people about this all the time — I'll get three or four calls a month now about free daily launches and that's always an early question. But it starts with independent businesses and walkable areas and then it gets tricky ... oddly, there's a huge debate about competition, print vs. all these local web sites and other factors. Then you walk around and get a "gut" feeling — beware of chain stores.

And part of that discussion is size — if you buy into the idea of micro-dailies, then how large can a city really be? Is a 15-25K daily circulation culturally relevant in a city of a million people? If you go bigger, can you keep rates low enough to be locally serving, or do you nudge into what amounts to regional merchants — again, people break all kinds of ways, but it's important to match that vision to your wallet. How many people do you have on your staff?

Robinson: We have three reporters, a half-dozen regular local contributors, three sales folks, and we use a local distribution company that was just a freakin' miracle dropped from above. I'm not sure third party distribution would be part of a "model" launch, but it really worked this time around. You just get lucky some days. In terms of sales, what area or vertical have you been most successful in, and which one has been the toughest?

Robinson: I never, ever feel 100 percent certain what the hell a "vertical" is — it seems to vary by who is doing the marketing. We've done well with restaurants and such, and the hardest is of course the agency accounts — just like every other free daily launch. And of course there are the typical reasons for that — but we've already had a major bank buying ads off its own push — that's what it takes. It was like that when we launched the Summit Daily News in 1989 (I've been at this a while) and it will be like that for a long time. Real Estate seems to be coming around — they are looking for good value. Have you broken even yet, and if not, do you have an idea when that will happen?

Robinson: We're on target to be what we call "cash flowing" in the spring, meaning we will pay our bills with what comes in ... accountants will explain that that's far, far different from "profit" and they're right, but on the path to sustainability it's one of the true milestones. Jim Pavelich of free daily fame (Vail, Palo Alto, San Francisco) once told me that the only reason to do the first year of a free daily is to get to the second year.

BTW — This is my third free daily startup — starting with the Summit Daily News (Frisco, Colorado) in 1989. Regarding news, what's the biggest controversy your paper has covered (or ignited)?

Robinson: We get one or two good "gets" every week or so — I have very experienced reporters — and we actually launched with a major story about an emergency response on one of the Portland city islands, where neighbors had to help treat the victim and a bystander drove the ambulance to the emergency response boat, all because of a staffing policy and communications glitch. We've stayed with that story and others.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A big "oops" in Santa Barbara

When you print an apology that includes the sentence "The Daily Sound would never advocate for the assassination of our president or any other person," you know you're having a bad day.

The free daily in Santa Barbara, California, is apologizing for a column that many readers apparently interpreted as a call to take the life of the president.

Of course there are two sides to any story, and this is no exception. The Daily Sound printed this piece (here is a link) December 10 by Gina Perry, a resident who writes a column every other week for the paper. She slams Obama supporters including those who wanted to put a $200,000 bounty on the head of U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue, who is speaking out against the president's healthcare plan and proposed carbon emission legislation. The "bounty" was for anyone who could dig up personal dirt on Donohue that would force him to resign.

At the end of the column, Perry writes, "The most dangerous extremist in this country is the one running it. Perhaps a bounty should be put on his head."

Jeramy Gordon, the publisher and founder of the Daily Sound, wrote in a December 16 apology, "Even if the assassination of our president wasn’t Perry’s intended meaning — which she claims — it’s a conclusion that many highly educated people came to."

To Gordon's credit, he didn't fire Perry. His reasoning: "we carry the old-school ideal that fighting opposing opinions with more opinions and more words is the most effective way to right a perceived wrong." And to that end, Gordon has printed numerous letters critical of him and Perry.

Many publishers would have fired her in the hopes that the controversy would go away. At a corporate, chain-owned paper, it's easy to imagine a boss at the home office calling the local publisher and yelling, "What the hell is going on there? Fire that woman!"

On the other hand, Gordon did offer a full apology and explained that the column wasn't edited before being published. "This is truly an unfortunate situation and we’ve learned our lesson that guest opinion pieces need to be more closely monitored," Gordon wrote.

Still, we can imagine that when the calls started rolling in after Perry's column first appeared, Gordon probably felt like somebody in a Southwest Airlines commercial that has the tag line "Want to get away?"

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Column about snow causes a storm

A controversy has erupted in Colorado over a free daily's firing of a reporter who criticized Vail Resorts for exaggerating snowfall reports.

The reasons behind the firing of Bob Berwyn are in dispute.

A Denver Post columnist says Berwyn was fired by the Summit Daily News for his Nov. 19 column, which chided Vail Resorts for saying it got so much snow that it had to shut its headquarters down. The company's headquarters are in the Denver suburb of Broomfield — 70 miles from the slopes on Colorado's front range. While it was snowing in Broomfield, it was sunny on the ski slopes.

Berwyn pointed this fact out at the end of the column.

"I sometimes wonder whether the ski industry wouldn't benefit more from being completely transparent about weather and snowfall with its customers," Berwyn wrote.

The Summit Daily News, based in the ski town of Breckenridge (above), gets a lot of its advertising from Vail Resorts, the owner of ski-lifts and real estate offices in that town as well as Vail.

Berwyn told the Denver Post that Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz called to cancel his ads — and two weeks later Berwyn was out of a job.

The publisher of Summit Daily News, Jim Morgan, denies that pressure from Vail Resorts led to Berwyn's firing.

Morgan wrote: "[O]ur decision to terminate his employment [was] based on a series of events, documented in reviews over a significant period of time."

Adding another dimension to the controversy, Katz, the head of Vail resorts, issued a news release complaining Berwyn never attempted to reach the company for its side of the story. Also, Katz asks why would he be hyping the snow in October, when his resorts aren't even open?

Katz says he only put his ads on a "temporary" hold after he suspected Berwyn was repeating what Katz said was a private conversation they had after the column. Katz said he never threatened to permanently pull his ads.


All of this left my head spinning. Maybe it's a case of a big advertiser pushing around a newspaper over critical coverage, or perhaps it is a bad reporter making up a story as to why he got fired. I don't know.

And if Berwyn is going to go after the ski industry for exaggerating snow accumulations, why didn't he do it as a big blockbuster front-page story instead of a sentence or two buried at the end of a long column?

One other thing I don't know, and this has nothing to do with journalism, but why does a ski resort operator have its headquarters 70 miles from the slopes?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Washington Post redesigns Express

The Washington Post has redesigned its free daily, Express, by changing fonts, adding more color and going to a magazine approach on the front page.

Instead, Express now has a cover story each day consisting of a headline and large photo — but no text. Inside Express is devoting a full-page to the cover story, giving a writer an opportunity to go into more depth than usual.

The redesign wasn't a radical change — sometimes designers go nuts and readers don't recognize the new product — but instead appeared to be tweaking of an already successful free daily.

Unlike RedEye, TBT, Metro or amNewYork, Express isn't putting much celebrity news on the cover. Instead, the D.C. free daily has a heavy diet of hard news. Recent cover stories include:
    • Dec. 1: "Obama's War," a preview of his national TV speech on increasing troop levels in Afghanistan.

    • Dec. 2: The White House party crashers complaining their lives have been destroyed.

    • Dec. 3: The beginning of stem cell trials.

    • Dec. 4: The implications of the NBC-Comcast merger.

    • Dec. 7: "Emissions: Impossible," a preview of the Copenhagen climate conference.

    • Dec. 8: The uprising in Tehran.

    • Dec. 9: Improving test scores in D.C. schools.

    • Dec. 10: "The War and Peace Prize," the president's Nobel Peace Prize.

    • Dec. 11: "On Notice," the Metro transit system's boss is under the gun.
Notice that the biggest tabloid story during this period — Tiger Woods — wasn't a cover story, though it was teased on the front a couple of times.

"Our goal is to pack more news onto our pages than ever before while at the same time making the paper more attractive and easier to navigate," said a front page note introducing the redesign on Nov. 30.

As for the fonts, Express changed its news headline font from Knockout to Flama, its features headline font from Miller to Farnham, and its body copy (and decks) from Miller to Fenway. Also, they're using Popular in places.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Chicago RedEye increases circulation to 250,000

Amid the financial disaster that is the Tribune Company, there is a shining star — RedEye, the company's free daily in Chicago. It attracts readers in the coveted 18-34 age group that its older sibling, the Chicago Tribune, is unable to reach.

On January 4, RedEye plans to boost its circulation from 200,000 to 250,000 a day — a 25% increase — to keep its retail outlets well stocked with the paper throughout the day. It is also boosting distribution to the campuses of about 30 colleges.

RedEye's content is a combination of "to the point" news (short stories), a heavy helping of pop culture and lots of entertainment coverage. If you want in-depth political or business coverage, pick up the Tribune.

"RedEye is a key brand within our content portfolio, reaching Chicagoans that are young and time-pressed. Advertisers realize that RedEye connects them with this audience better than any other player in the market," said Kurt Mueller, general manager of RedEye.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Buyer emerges for Arizona free daily

Randy Miller — the owner of a free daily in Telluride, Colo., and a weekly in Tucson, Ariz. — has reached an agreement to buy the free daily East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Ariz., rescuing it from closure.

The Tribune switched from paid to free in October 2007. But earlier this year owner Freedom Communications entered into Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, which forced the company to either close or sell unprofitable operations. Freedom put the Tribune up for sale, and if no buyer was found by Dec. 31, the paper was to close.

Terms weren't disclosed. But Miller said he hoped to keep a "substantial number" of the Tribune's remaining 140 employees, according to a report by the Tribune.

Miller is the former owner of the Colorado Daily in Boulder, one of the earliest free dailes. He sold it in 2007 to the owner of Boulder's other newspaper, The Daily Camera.

Miller currently owns the Telluride Daily Planet and the Tucson alt-weekly The Explorer. Miller's Explorer is printed on the Tribune's new, $4 million press, which he will now own.

The Tribune won a Pulitzer this year for a series that showed how a sheriff's emphasis on enforcing immigration laws reduced response times for other types of crime.

A major challenge Miller will face is increasing the Tribune's advertising base, which has been hard hit by the downturn in the housing market.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Good news, bad news

The good news ... Metro says it has become the 5th largest circulated newspaper in the United States, with a combined circulation (Boston, NY and Philly) of 590,553. Metro claims it is the country's fifth largest circulation paper, pulling ahead of the Washington Post, with 582,844 (Monday-Saturday).

Of course advertisers still favor paid circulation papers, so the Washington Post will continue to charge more per column inch than Metro. But Metro, and other free dailies, continue to have strong and growing readership numbers while paid papers are losing ground.

The Washington Post, for instance, lost 5 percent of its circulation year over year in the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation. The San Francisco Chronicle saw its circulation plunge 26 percent during the period. Nationally, the overall decrease in paid circulation was 10 percent.

Metro has another bragging right — it commmissioned a Scarborough survey which found Metro was No. 1 among adults 18-49 in its three markets.

The bad news ... The experiment of converting the Mesa (Ariz.) Tribune from paid to free circulation has failed. The owners, Freedom Communications, have announced the paper will close Dec. 30 unless a buyer is found. That will result in the layoff about 140 employees.

Despite winning a Pulitzer a year ago, the Tribune hasn't made money in two years. The paper started in 1891. Mesa is a suburb of Phoenix, an area hard-hit by the housing industry meltdown.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Metro puts serifs on headlines

Metro in NY, Philly and Boston will unveil a redesign on Monday that a press release says will help the free daily in "targeting the hard-to-reach metropolitan." The big changes we see on the front are:
    1. A new serif headline font
    2. No copy on the front, just teases and photos
    3. A different shade of green for the flag.
Starting Monday, Metro will be divided into three sections:
    1. Local and world news, commentary, business and environmental topics
    2. "My Metro" — entertainment, education, pets, health, style, money, home, travel, technology
    3. Sports — previews, predictions, analyses, scores
Metro is also adding material from CNN, Self, Fodor’s, Wired,, Thrillist,, Geeksugar, Lucky and Flavorpill.

“Heightened expert analysis, commentary, powerful pictures and reader views will enhance Metro’s editorial core keeping the news dynamic, fresh and interesting," says Tony Metcalf, editor-in-chief, Metro US. "Metro is known to innovate, changing print and design history several times, and leading the pack in targeting the hard-to-reach metropolitan. This redesign is the next stage of that."

"This is a bigger change than a standard redesign; we are in the middle of transforming the newspaper itself," says Per Mikael Jensen, CEO of Metro International. “Our ambition is to continue to deliver the free newspaper of choice.”

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

New evening free daily starts in Toronto

Newsboys and girls, dressed in poorboy caps and white oxford shirts yelling "Extra! Extra!," handed out copies of Toronto's newest daily, t.o.night, to people on the streets of Canada's most populous city yesterday afternoon.

"We wouldn't dare launch another paper in the morning — there are already six out there," John Cameron, publisher of the newspaper, told the CBC. "The market is already oversaturated, in my opinion."

The free paper is printed on magazine-style glossy paper and carries mostly wire news stories and copy from Cameron's local entertainment Web site, BlogTO.

Cameron said advertisers are already responding.

"We are [the] last touch point that advertisers get before consumers go home — readers are sitting on a train on the way home. They want to be entertained," said Cameron. "And there's ... nothing there to provide that."