A couple of weeks ago, San Jose Mercury News editor Dave Butler sent his anxious staff a memo. Because of rising newsprint prices, the paper is “exploring” a shorter “Quick Read” version on Monday and Tuesdays — “as are a number of other MNG papers.”
MNG is Denver-based MediaNews Group, and one of their other papers is our own Pioneer Press. So is the PiPress looking at an early-week Cliff’s Notes version?
The quick answer, according to PiPress editor Thom Fladung, is no. But given how “innovations” of the shorter, cheaper kind become standard practice, it’s worth knowing more to the story.
The “Quick Read” paper is still a bit of quicksilver, says San Jose assistant managing editor Kevin Wendt, who pinch-hit for Butler when I called.
“We’re still figuring the form out,” he says. “It’s smaller in terms of fewer pages, and you’d steer longer stories away from Monday and Tuesday. You would still reserve an ability to do a 1A centerpiece very well, when news demanded it, but around that, within the paper, everything would be shorter.”
Apparently, MNG’s Salt Lake Tribune is further along in the process, having designed a mockup. Their head designer did not reply to an email for comment.
Wendt says research shows readers spend less time with the paper on Monday and Tuesday. Conveniently, there are fewer ads on those days, so cost-cutting papers can at least claim to serve both constituencies.
“Everything is factoring into every decision newspapers are making,” observes Wendt, who becomes editor of the non-MNG Huntsville (Ala.) Times Wednesday. “We’ve heard things — readers are worried about the time they have, papers piling up in the recycling. So can we do this in a smart way, and still provide a publication they can learn from and is simpler to use?”
According to the PiPress’s 2007 circulation figures, Monday is actually the second-highest-read weekday; only Friday is better. Here’s the data:
Monday’s number rises during Vikings season, PiPress circulation V.P. Andrew Mok says. Circulation climbs later in the week because the paper, like others, markets a Thursday-Sunday package that places weekend ads before the most readers.
The circ figures say nothing about how much time readers spend with their Monday and Tuesday papers. But it’s worth noting that papers already “right-size” their page counts to meet ad demand.
Today, for example, the PiPress’s A and B sections were each six pages — and that includes a business page with no local news, nearly a page of obits, and at most two pages of ads, total. None of the local feature stories were time-sensitive; any could’ve been held.
(It’s hard to see how a newsprint-sipping PiPress runs sections smaller than six pages — though the future is probably one news section combined. That assumes “zoned” advertisers — whose news-section ads hit specific geographic areas — can be accommodated.)
Anyway, the point is it wouldn’t be too big a leap to go “Quick Read.” You’d mostly have to make a commitment to consistently shorter stories and bumping discretionary features later in the week. That assumes Minnesota’s famously literate subscribers would embrace “convenience” over depth (or at least length), especially in a competitive market.
Nevertheless, Fladung’s statement on the matter is pretty Shermanesque: “We don’t have anything in motion or any planning going on for changing the Monday and Tuesday newspapers.”
He adds, “Obviously, though, I know these discussions are going on a MediaNews. I have not been directly involved in any of those discussions.”
Now, media corporations have been known to keep editors in the dark on the ugliest initiatives, though I doubt that’s the case here. Still, to make sure there was nothing up the business side’s sleeves, I left a message with PiPress publisher Guy Gilmore, but didn’t get a callback.
By the way, if you want to see a different, though related reinvention attempt, see what new Chicago Tribune owner Sam Zell has planned for his Orlando Sentinel here. (Hat tip: Reflections of a Newsosaur.)