The Anniston Star to eliminate Monday print edition

Another Alabama newspaper has decided to reduce its days in print. This time, it is a smaller daily that has been praised for its commitment to community journalism. Starting in the fourth quarter of this year, probably in October, The Anniston Star will eliminate its Monday print edition, editor Bob Davis said by phone Monday evening.

The family-owned newspaper is not immune to the economic pressures felt by news organizations across the U.S. Those business imperatives “know no difference between a family-owned paper and a large corporate newspaper,” Davis said.

“The Monday newspaper is our lowest-circulation newspaper,” Robert Jackson, Consolidated Publishing Company’s vice president for sales, told the Star’s Cameron Steele. “If you look at circulation numbers and look at advertising revenue, it is the lowest product.”

According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the Star’s average circulation for the six months ending in March was 20,249 on Sunday and 19,068 the rest of the week. That’s down from a year earlier, when it was 21,502 on Sunday and 20,405 the other days.

In the summer of 2009, Davis came to the Poynter McCormick Big Ideas Conference to describe the paper’s efforts to revamp the Monday paper. His project, as described by seminar leader Jill Geisler:

In Alabama, The Anniston Star’s move to a Monday tab was an adventure. After six months of planning and focus groups, the paper launched “JumpStart,” a Monday tab with community features, “news you can use” and personality profiles. Readers rejected the tab format. The paper quickly reverted to broadsheet, but retained the lively content. This presentation was one of the most memorable of the conference because it provided leadership lessons in innovation, “failing fast” and moving forward.

About six years ago, Star publisher H. Brandt Ayers and his family started a foundation that, in partnership with the paper and the University of Alabama, would help train journalists the way the paper had once trained Rick Bragg and others.

At the time, Ayers told NPR’s David Folkenflik:

We want a great newspaper, and we want the school to really add something to our craft. And we want to make enough money to make that happen. And that’s what drives us, that’s what we want. And we’re not gonna say you gotta bump the 20 percent profit up to 35 next year.

Interns from that program will continue to work at the paper during the summer, but other things will change.

Davis said the paper will not lay off staff, but it is making three other changes to “better focus our resources and manpower.” The Star will:

  • Eliminate the Monday print product.
  • Discontinue the Friday entertainment section (“Escapes”) in August and “bulk up” a renamed Sunday features section.
  • Discontinue its contract with the Associated Press, which requires two years’ notice. The Star notified the AP last month but hopes to continue with the service in a reduced form, at a reduced cost.

The paper is also considering a paywall and other digital shifts. Though more and more metro newspapers are embracing digital subscriptions, it’s less common among papers of the Star’s size.

The paper currently publishes to its website “at or around midnight seven days a week, barring a technology breakdown.” Breaking news is updated throughout the day, according to its “About Us” page, but readers are warned:

“Before acting on information you have found in The Anniston Star Online, you should confirm any facts that are important to your decision. The facts may have changed since the site was updated.”

“We’re all looking at our models on what goes online and what’s the model to pay for that journalism,” Davis said. “We know that content we provide, we can’t do it for cheap. It’s expensive to do this kind of journalism. It has value and it’s pretty exclusive to us.”

For example, he said, “no one else is covering the Anniston City Council in print or any other real form … no one’s covering local sports.”

What precipitated this change, Davis said, is what’s precipitating it everywhere: “the changing economy, a digitizing world and declining readership in print, simultaneous with a tremendous demand for the journalism our newspaper does.”

“It’s a period of transition; we’re all going through it.”

Earlier this year, the Frederick News-Post in Maryland resumed Monday print publication, after stopping it in 2009. Publisher Geordie Wilson said at the time that readers “have made it abundantly clear that they want the print edition of their local paper on their doorstep seven days a week.” The family-owned paper changed its approach to advertising on Mondays and “the first month is almost sold out.”

In May, Advance Publications announced plans to cut staff and shift from daily printing to three days a week at its Alabama papers: The Birmingham News, the Press-Register in Mobile and The Huntsville Times. The company is also reducing staff and print days at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.

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  • Anonymous

    see reply above

  • Anonymous

    again, many thanks for your response. it is funny, though, that we are trying to figure out what the hell they mean because what they say is utterly confusing. a newspaper that allegedly is as good as the star is NOT supposed to leave readers guessing. for most people as far as i know, “circulation” does NOT mean “single-copy sales.” best, JT

  • Anonymous

    again, many thanks for your response. it is funny, though, that we are trying to figure out what the hell they mean because what they say is utterly confusing. a newspaper that allegedly is as good as the star is NOT supposed to leave readers guessing. for most people as far as i know, “circulation” does NOT mean “single-copy sales.” best, JT

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Yes, it makes sense. We believe they mean it’s the lowest day for single-copy sales. As Rick said, they may also have some research that tells them people aren’t opening it, spending as much time with it, etc., but that’s speculation on our part. I will speculate a bit further that  Monday may seem to be one of the more disposable days since the paper is typically thinnest of news that day and perhaps of ads as well. –Julie Moos, Director of Poynter Online

  • Anonymous

    Julie:

    many thanks for your response. however, i don’t know what you mean by “it’s single copy.” what does “it’s” refer to? is edmonds saying that the star’s reference to “circulation” of its monday paper is probably a reference ONLY to rack sales? it seems to me it is irrelevant how much time readers are spending with monday’s paper as long as they are buying it (primarily thru ongoing subscriptions).

    my point is that it appears the “circulation” of the star’s weekday papers SHOULD be virtually if not literally the same from day to day. thus, for the star to say its monday paper is the “lowest circuation” of the week is virtually impossible since subscriptions do not allow subscribers to drop monday’s paper.

    i don’t mean to belabor the point, but is what i’m saying make sense to you?

    JT

  • Anonymous

    Julie:

    many thanks for your response. however, i don’t know what you mean by “it’s single copy.” what does “it’s” refer to? is edmonds saying that the star’s reference to “circulation” of its monday paper is probably a reference ONLY to rack sales? it seems to me it is irrelevant how much time readers are spending with monday’s paper as long as they are buying it (primarily thru ongoing subscriptions).

    my point is that it appears the “circulation” of the star’s weekday papers SHOULD be virtually if not literally the same from day to day. thus, for the star to say its monday paper is the “lowest circuation” of the week is virtually impossible since subscriptions do not allow subscribers to drop monday’s paper.

    i don’t mean to belabor the point, but is what i’m saying make sense to you?

    JT

  • Anonymous

    Julie:

    many thanks for your response. however, i don’t know what you mean by “it’s single copy.” what does “it’s” refer to? is edmonds saying that the star’s reference to “circulation” of its monday paper is probably a reference ONLY to rack sales? it seems to me it is irrelevant how much time readers are spending with monday’s paper as long as they are buying it (primarily thru ongoing subscriptions).

    my point is that it appears the “circulation” of the star’s weekday papers SHOULD be virtually if not literally the same from day to day. thus, for the star to say its monday paper is the “lowest circuation” of the week is virtually impossible since subscriptions do not allow subscribers to drop monday’s paper.

    i don’t mean to belabor the point, but is what i’m saying make sense to you?

    JT

  • Anonymous

    Julie:

    many thanks for your response. however, i don’t know what you mean by “it’s single copy.” what does “it’s” refer to? is edmonds saying that the star’s reference to “circulation” of its monday paper is probably a reference ONLY to rack sales? it seems to me it is irrelevant how much time readers are spending with monday’s paper as long as they are buying it (primarily thru ongoing subscriptions).

    my point is that it appears the “circulation” of the star’s weekday papers SHOULD be virtually if not literally the same from day to day. thus, for the star to say its monday paper is the “lowest circuation” of the week is virtually impossible since subscriptions do not allow subscribers to drop monday’s paper.

    i don’t mean to belabor the point, but is what i’m saying make sense to you?

    JT

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Hi, JT. Thanks for raising this. I checked with Rick Edmonds, Poynter’s media business analyst, and this was his response: “It’s single-copy and the reader is right in implying the difference may
    be small. Might also be the case that they do some market research on
    how much time readers spend with the paper each day.” Hope that helps, Julie Moos (Director of Poynter Online)

  • Anonymous

    More liberal papers will be doing the same–Honest people don’t want to hear any more lies

  • Anonymous

    it would be interesting to know how often mr. denton (and others) has had occasion to actually read the anniston paper since his reporting days there 40 years ago.
     
    one of the paper’s own monthly columnists (paul rilling, sort of an ombudsman) observed how a recent star story was “self-serving,” how some stories display peculiar news judgement for a small “community newspaper” (the death of ray bradbury was the lead story on the front page, andy griffith’s death got more than a full page of coverage), how stories are “poorly organized” and often fail to explain signiificant points, how the paper manages to get times and dates of local events wrong, how recent legislative coverage didn’t bother to report a single vote of local lawmakers on key issues, how the star has not bothered for over a decade to trace and report the sources of campaign money collected by local candidates.

    “sometimes,” rilling has written, “it seems as though the star wants stories to be as long as possible rather than as succinct as possible, the normal journalism model.”

    then there is the star’s policy of donating — at no charge — “public service” pages to the chamber of commerce, the local museum and the library to promote their activities. the chamber alone gets 2 pages a week (that’s 8 a month, 96 a year), though pages do sometimes have a few ads on them. as rilling notes in his june 20 column: “a total of 12 such pages were published in june.”

    and for the regular reader, the list goes on and on.

  • Anonymous

    it would be interesting to know how often mr. denton (and others) has had occasion to actually read the anniston paper since his reporting days there 40 years ago.
     
    one of the paper’s own monthly columnists (paul rilling, sort of an ombudsman) observed how a recent star story was “self-serving,” how some stories display peculiar news judgement for a small “community newspaper” (the death of ray bradbury was the lead story on the front page, andy griffith’s death got more than a full page of coverage), how stories are “poorly organized” and often fail to explain signiificant points, how the paper manages to get times and dates of local events wrong, how recent legislative coverage didn’t bother to report a single vote of local lawmakers on key issues, how the star has not bothered for over a decade to trace and report the sources of campaign money collected by local candidates.

    “sometimes,” rilling has written, “it seems as though the star wants stories to be as long as possible rather than as succinct as possible, the normal journalism model.”

    then there is the star’s policy of donating — at no charge — “public service” pages to the chamber of commerce, the local museum and the library to promote their activities. the chamber alone gets 2 pages a week (that’s 8 a month, 96 a year), though pages do sometimes have a few ads on them. as rilling notes in his june 20 column: “a total of 12 such pages were published in june.”

    and for the regular reader, the list goes on and on.

  • Anonymous

    i don’t understand. in explaining the decision to quit publishing a monday paper, an executive of the anniston star says monday is the star’s  “lowest circulation paper.” how can that be? what’s the evidence of that?

    according to it’s web site, the star does NOT offer a subscription plan that allows subscribers to drop monday’s paper. you can get the 5-day subscription (monday thru friday) or the weekend plan (friday thru sunday) or the 7 day plan. maybe “lowest circulation” includes rack sales, but that should be minimal at best. and in any event, why would rack sales in a small town differ significantly from monday to tuesday to any other weekday?  

    the star may well have reason to stop printing its monday paper, but it appears its “lowest circulation” argument is not a valid one.     

  • Anonymous

    i don’t understand. in explaining the decision to quit publishing a monday paper, an executive of the anniston star says monday is the star’s  “lowest circulation paper.” how can that be? what’s the evidence of that?

    according to it’s web site, the star does NOT offer a subscription plan that allows subscribers to drop monday’s paper. you can get the 5-day subscription (monday thru friday) or the weekend plan (friday thru sunday) or the 7 day plan. maybe “lowest circulation” includes rack sales, but that should be minimal at best. and in any event, why would rack sales in a small town differ significantly from monday to tuesday to any other weekday?  

    the star may well have reason to stop printing its monday paper, but it appears its “lowest circulation” argument is not a valid one.     

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Lange/100000489723304 Mike Lange

    During my Army Reserve days in the 1990s, I was stationed at Fort McClellan, Ala. for annual training. I was really impressed by the Anniston Star back then and I’m sad to see it downsized. The paper was attractive and highly focused on local coverage. Hopefully, the same high standards will continue.

  • http://www.facebook.com/frank.denton.58 Frank Denton

    Thanks to the Ayers family, The Anniston Star has been a beacon of journalism for well more than 40 years.  I was a reporter there in 1970-72 and learned as much as I contributed.  Newsrooms all over the country have terrific journalists who came through The Star.  Anniston is lucky to have the newspaper . . . and should support it as many days as it publishes.
    Frank Denton