For years, the Monday edition of The Anniston Star has been there to bring bleary-eyed readers up-to-speed on all the events of a better day — Sunday.
But no longer. The Star will cease Monday publication in October. This is the last Monday edition — in print, anyway.
The Star’s editors say the reason for the change is simple. The Monday print edition was the least-read of all the week’s papers, while Monday is the day The Star’s website gets the most visitors. In fact, there’s a very good chance that if you’re reading this right now, you’re reading it on the Web.
“In some ways, this decision was made for us by our readers,” said Star Associate Publisher Bob Davis. Davis said several months ago, Publisher H. Brandt Ayers asked Davis and Vice President for Operations and Sales Robert Jackson to look at the best way to position the paper for the coming changes in the news business. Both circulation and ad revenue have been declining at newspapers across the country, and many expect a future shift from print to an online format — though no one knows yet exactly what a post-print world would look like.
“We looked at everything, and there were no great options,” Davis said. “It became clear that the Monday paper had both the lowest circulation and the lowest advertising revenue.”
Take a look at the Web numbers, however, and it’s like stepping through the looking glass. For the past year, the Star’s numbers show, Monday has been The Star’s best day for Web traffic. The Sunday edition has long been the crown jewel of print newspapers — stuffed as it is with news, opinion and ads and selling more copies than any of the week’s other papers. Yet Sunday is the second-slowest day for traffic on the Star’s website.
“Sunday’s bound to be a tough day for Web traffic, given your population,” said Bill Grueskin, a dean at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and co-author of “The Story So Far,” a study of digital journalism.
“People are probably going to church or spending time with their families, not sneaking down to the basement to use the computer,” Grueskin said.
The Monday Web spike, though, is a little more mysterious. Are people checking sports scores? Are they logging on as soon as they get settled in at work? No one knows.
“That’s a bit unusual,” Grueskin said. At most papers, he said, “the spike tends to come later in the week, on Tuesday and Wednesday.”
Whatever the reason for the Monday surge, The Star’s editors say they’re going to take the news where the readers are. Davis said readers will continue to find fresh news on the Star website when they get up on Monday, and throughout the day as news breaks.
The Star has fielded a number of reader complaints since the end of the Monday edition was announced. For the most part, readers have objected to the non-Monday changes that came along with the end of the Monday paper. Among other things, the Monday Record — a weekly account of arrests and legal proceedings — moved to Sunday, and the Escapes section was folded into the rest of The Star’s features section.
Grueskin, the journalism professor, said loyal subscribers are bound to feel hurt and frustrated whenever someone tampers with their paper. Their reading habits, he said, are deeply ingrained.
“It’s like switching the brake pedal and the gas pedal on your car,” he said.
But with advertising revenue shrinking across the print industry, he said, papers are taking a hard look at their products.
“The day of people depending on the newspaper for their TV listings is coming to an end,” he said. “There was a time when people put the TV guide section on the coffee table in front of the TV.” Now they get that information from a digital recorder or TV guide channel, he said.
Horoscopes and the Coffee Break feature, both of which exist only in the print edition of The Star, won’t be available Monday. Readers will get a double dose of Beetle Bailey, Get Fuzzy and other comics in the Tuesday paper. Davis said it was important to keep the funnies in the paper without interrupting their storylines.
“I think the comics page is a gateway to readership,” said Davis, who started reading newspapers as a child through the comics page of The Chattanooga News-Free Press.
“A lack of comics hasn’t hurt the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times,” he said. “But they’re part of the glue that holds together a community newspaper.”
Readers have also occasionally complained that they’ll get fewer newspapers for their money, a complaint that continues to frustrate Star employees — because it’s simply not true.
The Star has dropped its monthly subscription rates to reflect the change in the number of newspapers produced weekly. Subscribers who signed up before the change will see their subscriptions lengthened by the same number of days they’d lose when the Monday paper goes away.
One thing readers won’t lose, Star editors say, is news. Yes, news does break on Sunday — in fact, one of The Star’s biggest stories in its history, the 1961 burning of a Freedom Riders bus, happened on Mother’s Day — but these days, it’s possible to get the Sunday news the day it happens.
“They can go to annistonstar.com or to our Facebook page or to our Twitter feed,” Davis said. “They won’t have to wait until Monday.”