What will Oregonian reductions mean for competing news orgs, readers?
The just-announced reductions in home delivery and staff at Advance's The Oregonian aren't good news to journalists who'll find out Friday whether they still have jobs or to people who like getting the newspaper at home. But what do they mean for other news organizations and to people who consume news?
The Columbian is published just across the Columbia River from Portland in Vancouver, Wash. Its publisher, Scott Campbell, tells Columbian reporter Cami Joner the paper has no plans to cut delivery frequency.
“If there are subscribers over here that subscribe to The Oregonian only and they’re interested in a seven-day publication, they may want The Columbian,” Columbian circulation and production director Marc Dailey tells Joner. “The caveat is that someone subscribing to The Oregonian may want more Oregon and Portland news.”
Experiences in other markets dominated by Advance papers may prove instructive.
The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer is also owned by Advance and recently announced delivery and staff reductions, too. If that causes a drop in The Plain Dealer's average daily circulation, Central Michigan University professor John K. Hartman argues, The Columbus Dispatch will become "the state’s largest daily newspaper."
And in northeast Ohio, this will make the Akron Beacon Journal the largest daily newspaper in the region. If the Akron paper gains daily circulation from the PD’s demise the way the Baton Rouge Advocate has gained 20,000 by expanding into New Orleans, the Beacon Journal will open up an even bigger lead — a humiliating turn of events for the PD and its home city of Cleveland.
Here are the average circulations for Ohio's six largest newspapers, using recent data from the Alliance for Audited Media.
|Newspaper||Average Sunday circulation||Average daily circulation (Monday-Friday)|
|The Plain Dealer||458,838||311,605|
|The Columbus Dispatch||257,479||137,148|
|The Cincinnati Enquirer||254,670||129,901|
|Dayton Daily News||156,199||91,212|
|The (Toledo) Blade||118,043||87,868|
|Akron Beacon Journal||111,606||80,366|
The Enquirer and the Daily News serve southwestern Ohio; Toledo is in the northwest; and Columbus is near the state's center.
And as Hartman points out, The (Baton Rouge) Advocate has made what appears to be a successful play for print customers in New Orleans who want a seven-day-per-week newspaper. It has moved aggressively into the New Orleans market since the Advance-owned Times-Picayune cut print frequency and staff last year, and new Advocate owner John Georges recently told the New Orleans city council his paper is adding 500 print subscriptions per week in New Orleans.
Perhaps in response, The Times-Picayune in April announced a new tabloid called TP Street for some previous non-print days.
It will debut Monday, Times-Picayune Editor Jim Amoss told staffers Wednesday.
Kevin Allman reports the company's plan to sell TP Street only at newsstands "has also been reconsidered as NOLA Media Group pondered the possibility of returning to daily delivery of a daily print product with the name Times-Picayune, effectively positioning the physical paper where it was a year ago before the 'digital transition' — albeit a physical paper with a severely damaged brand and new competition in the form of The Advocate's New Orleans edition."
In late May I surveyed publishers of mostly digital publications in New Orleans, almost all of whom said they'd experienced gains in readership since the Times-Picayune announced its reductions. (The editor of The [Carlisle, Pa.] Sentinel told me earlier this year his paper had seen subscriptions jump after the Advance-owned Patriot News in Harrisburg reduced print frequency.)
Those gains for competitors are ultimately good for local readers, who benefit from news organizations hustling for their attention. James Gill, who recently left the Times-Picayune for The Advocate, makes fun of that notion with a column congratulating his former employer for beating The Advocate on news of a frying-pan fire.
The Times-Picayune "has superior numbers on its side," Gill writes.
It is, after all, still a shock when it publishes a story that a weekly in the sticks might disdain. Perhaps the story would not be rejected there, though. No fewer than 17 firefighters turned out, and that could make news in a quiet settlement on a slow day. We can learn from the story too. Kindly take note that leaving a pan of oil unattended on the stove is not recommended.
I don't have a great read on the Oregon mediascape, but according to AAM numbers, the Oregonian -- which has average Sunday circulation of 303,495 and average daily circulation of 228,909 -- has no close daily competitors in the state. The next biggest Oregon paper is The (Eugene) Register-Guard, with average Sunday circulation of 54,027 and average daily circulation of 50,729.
In Portland, the paper competes in print with the alts Willamette Week and The Portland Mercury, as well as with Pamplin Media Group papers such as The Portland Tribune, and with TV stations such as KGW, KATU and KOIN. Reporting on the Oregonian's announcement, Willamette Week's Aaron Mesh said Oregonian Editor Peter Bhatia told staffers Thursday "editors will now be known as 'managing producers,' and all employees moving to the new company will be required to take a fresh drug test."
Oregonian journalists tweeted updates from a meeting with Bhatia Thursday, Denis C. Theriault wrote in the Mercury. "I will say this for management: they are clearly working very hard to make this a humane process," Anna Griffin tweeted. "Unlike NOLA. Everyone will know ASAP." Griffin also wrote this one:
2/2 If you're going to remake the news biz, Portland is the perfect place to do it. Our readers care about their city. They want journalism.
— Anna Griffin (@annargriff) June 20, 2013
And Oregonian reporter Lynne Terry tweeted something kind of plangent Thursday evening:
It's disconcerting to walk out of work and realize, with TV trucks nearby, the newspaper is their story pic.twitter.com/f6bk7ng2Gc
— Lynne Terry (@LynnePDX) June 20, 2013