Hoping to cut soaring newsprint costs while preserving story counts, Pioneer Press editor Thom Fladung says the current A and B sections will become one on Mondays and Tuesdays. The change begins next Monday, July 28, though Sunday subscribers will notice a slightly smaller TV Week section a day earlier.
Overall, Fladung estimates the already-skinny PiPress will publish four to six fewer pages a week. However, he argues that story counts won’t drop and most pieces won’t shrink. “We took every story [from an actual early-week A and B section] and consolidated them. We had to trim some national copy, but we didn’t lose any stories.”
The paper can save pulp while preserving copy by dropping a second section front’s design elements. Of course, that means half as many opportunities for deserving stories to get a section front’s featured billing and graphic oomph.
Still, the change probably recognizes the obvious: some current PiPress news sections are so small — often six pages — that they were practically becoming vestigial. While it means a tougher breakfast scrum with your spouse for the one news section, at least when you get it, there will be some heft. For now.
I wouldn’t even mention the TV tabloid except some readers only let you pry it from their cold dead hands — just ask the Strib when they cut theirs. Fladung says the 16-page tabloid will fall to 12 because weekday daytime schedules will be smushed into a single Monday-Friday table.
The PiPress will still publish Sports and Daily Life sections, and have a second news section the rest of the week.
Fladung stresses that when big news happens on a Sunday or Monday — say, “a tornado in Hugo” — readers will get “all the coverage that’s here now” on Monday and Tuesday.
A keen question within newsroom walls is, “Does this mean job cuts?” The PiPress is contractually barred from layoffs through this year, but Fladung says flatly, “This doesn’t affect staffing.”
Any discussions with ownership about cuts at 12:01 a.m. January 1st? “No sir.”
One other evolutionary note: Fladung mentioned to his staff that the PiPress is increasingly about “niche publishing.” I asked him what that meant, and he described ad-friendly (though not ad-written) efforts like “Eat. Shop. Play.” and the aspirational “Spaces” periodicals. There’s also the new MinnMoms site, which is helmed by a newsroom staffer.
What I hadn’t really gleaned until talking to Fladung was how regular sections were being given over to single and more saleable themes. An example: an Earth Day “Going Green” section; Fladung says the normal 14-16-page Sunday section plumped out to 20 because of strong advertiser interest. Another example is an upcoming RNC visitors’ guide.
As long as the focuses make journalistic sense — as Earth Day and RNC tourist coverage seems to — then this ad-amenable approach is an OK way to preserve journalistic employment. The danger is that journalistic judgment increasingly gives way to ad-friendly subjects. That’s not a new thing, and the PiPress definitely isn’t alone here, but in tough times, mission creep bears careful watching.