Just weeks after Fargo-based Forum Communications cut the Red Wing Republican-Eagle’s production schedule from five days to two, three Forum-owned titles in Minnesota face cutbacks.
Citing “economic concerns” and a “desire to strengthen its website,” the Morris Sun-Tribune will go from two days to one beginning Sept. 2. The day after that Wednesday announcement, the New York Mills Herald and Perham Enterprise said they will become a single Otter Tail County paper Oct. 1.
While the papers are small, each with circulation under 4,000, they are part of a chain that boasts 22 Minnesota papers, including dailies in Duluth, Worthington, Willmar and Bemidji. Forum closed the Stillwater Courier and Lake Elmo Leader this May, and in 2008, reduced the Superior (Wisc.) Telegram’s production schedule from five days to two.
Bigger papers can shrink or combine sections and somewhat obscure their cuts, but smaller papers have less recourse, forcing higher-profile slashing.
Such cuts and combos usually reduce local news, but each newsroom argues the cuts will hurt local news-gathering less than it might appear.
Herald/Enterprise editor Kevin Cederstrom, noting that the Perham and New York Mills papers combined sports sections two years ago, wrote “in a perfect world, two autonomous community papers would remain and thrive.”
However, he says, the full pair-up will not result in staff cuts. “It’s mainly a consolidation move to for better production, as well as overall cost savings for the company.”
In Morris, publisher Sue Dieter argued in the Sun-Tribune’s pages that the single Saturday edition will be larger and contain more local news — though perhaps less local news than now offered between two editions. (Dieter did not return an email for comment.)
Both places plan to use their websites for breaking local stories. While the shift online is undoubtedly fueled by less print advertising, the web is unlikely to staunch that bleeding, since it accounts for under 10 percent of revenue at bigger papers, and typically less at smaller ones. As Cederstrom notes, sometimes all you can do is cut production costs to boost profitability.
Otter Tail County’s unemployment rate soars in the fall and winter; it was 7.4 percent in June, below state averages, but hit a 16-year high in February at 10.8 percent. Morris’ Steven County also shows post-summer joblessness, but is blessed with below-average unemployment; 4.9 percent in June and 7.3 percent in March.