Star to end Monday edition in October
by Cameron Steele
csteele@annistonstar.com
Jul 09, 2012 | 11082 views |  0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The publishers of The Anniston Star on Monday announced a series of changes to cut expenses while concentrating on digital growth, including the discontinuation of the Monday print edition of The Star and the Friday Escapes section.

The changes come as part cost-saving measure in the face of declining readership and advertising, part refocusing of resources toward the company’s growing digital presence, according to Robert Jackson, Consolidated Publishing Company’s vice president for sales.

“The Monday newspaper is our lowest-circulation newspaper,” Jackson said. “If you look at circulation numbers and look at advertising revenue, it is the lowest product.”

The company will stop publishing the Monday print editions sometime in October, Star Editor Bob Davis said. Readers will be able to access new content on Mondays by visiting the paper’s website, annistonstar.com. The Monday Record, which includes weekly lists of felony crimes, divorces, bankruptcies and other public records and statistics, will move to the Sunday paper. Meanwhile, the Escapes section, currently an insert in the Friday paper, will stop printing in August. The arts and features stories usually found there – as well as the weekly schedule of television shows – will be wrapped into the Sunday paper’s current Life section. Starting in August, that section will be called Life & Arts.

“We are trying to retain the core of what we do: local news, sports and information,” Davis said.

In addition to the printing changes, The Star has also notified the Associated Press that it will end its contract with the wire service in two years, and, at that point, stop using AP material.

The AP requires two years’ notice before a publication can get out of its contract. Davis told newsroom staffers Monday that a different, less expensive agreement could be worked out with the wire service before those two years are up.

In May, the members of the Consolidated Publishing board asked Davis and Jackson to examine the company’s products, determine what was working and “what are we spinning our wheels on?” Davis said.

The Monday paper and the Escapes section stood out as the latter in terms of advertising support and readership, Jackson said.

For example, in the subscription period that includes July 2012, Anniston Star circulation on Mondays is a little more than 19,000, data from the advertising department shows. That’s 18 percent lower than the Sunday circulation for the same subscription period, at just more than 22,400.

“What it really is doing is adjusting the market reality of the days advertisers want to advertise in the paper and readers want to read,” Jackson said of the decision to stop printing the Monday edition.

Just because a paper stops publishing its print editions on certain days does not mean it sacrifices quality, especially if that organization continues to provide news on other platforms, said Julie Moos, the director of Poynter Online. Poynter is a Florida-based nonprofit that provides journalism education and analyses of the media industry.

It's a challenging time for newspapers across the country which, like The Star, are facing declining ad revenues and -- in some cases -- declining circulation, Moos confirmed. On the other hand, the Poynter Online director noted that Sunday circulation is up at some papers.

"So it's interesting that the paper is shifting some of its coverage to Sunday; I don’t think that’s surprising," Moos said.

Davis stressed there will be continue to be fresh content on the Star website on Mondays for readers, and no one is being laid off within the company. Moos was interested in the latter aspect of the changes at Consolidated Publishing, she said, because a Poynter analysis of announced printing reductions and job layoffs at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans shows the savings there come from the personnel layoffs.

"I'm not sure how they find cost savings in cutting print days because they actually are losing some advertising revenue," Moos said of the upcoming changes at The Star.

In general, Jackson listed a number of factors — from slashing delivery and newsprint costs to overtime payments — that mitigate what is lost in ad revenue from ceasing the Monday print edition and Escapes sections.

Executives at Consolidated Publishing feel the upcoming changes are proactive ones that will allow them to focus on the growing consumption of news on digital platforms.

Currently, an independent consulting firm in Fayetteville, N.C., is studying and analyzing the online revenue and publishing trends at Consolidated Publishing. That study should be completed in August, Jackson said, and will help the company develop “a strategic plan to grow online both in advertising and in circulation.”

Meanwhile, the circulation department is finalizing a plan to adjust subscription rates for readers who, come October, will receive one less paper per week, or 52 fewer papers per year. People who have already paid their subscriptions for the coming year will see those subscriptions extended one day for every Monday paper that has been taken away, said Dennis Dunn, the Star's circulation director.

Otherwise, Dunn said, plans to adjust the subscription rates have not yet been hammered out.

“We’ll do something that’s fair and equitable for our readers,” Jackson said.

There will, too, be special occasions when The Star publishes Monday print editions, Davis said, pointing to NASCAR race weekends at Talladega as an example of when that could occur.

“In the long run I think both our print and online properties are going to be much better for our local readers – and consequently more attractive for our advertisers,” Jackson said.

Star Staff Writer Cameron Steele: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @Csteele_star.

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