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Star Tribune editor Nancy Barnes foresees the end of weekday newsprint

The American Society of News Editors used to be the American Society of Newspaper Editors, so it’s no surprise that an interview subject foresees the demise of certain print editions.

The American Society of News Editors used to be the American Society of Newspaper Editors, so it’s no surprise that an interview subject foresees the demise of certain print editions. But when that interviewee is Star Tribune editor Nancy Barnes….

Barnes answered five questions and a few follow-ups via Twitter Tuesday. Along the way, she talked about the Strib’s relations with MinnPost, how much her staff should tweet, Michele Bachmann’s ” never anticipated” presidential run, and how much time she put in beseeching moneylenders not to throttle the paper’s newsgathering. (A transcript is below.)

Still, it was a bit startling to see Barnes muse on the demise of weekday print, though she made it clear that day was more than five years out. I should note, too, that Barnes is only stating what dozens of media analysts and reporters have in recent years.

Here’s the transcript. The discussion has been reordered and Barnes’ answers combined so individual questions track. Twitter hashtags have also been removed, but the comments are otherwise unedited. The Twitter hashtag is #asnechat.

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ASNEchat: Q1: The Star-Tribune is seeing Sunday print growth, has iPad app and headed for pay approach online — what’s the plan/strategy?

NancyCBarnes: Q1. The strategy is to raise more revenue from consumers wherever they are reading us, print, web, mobile, tablet. etc. Decrease reliance on print advertising. We’ll have a suite of mobile products for subscribers when pay wall goes in. Longterm, we think Sunday print and digital weekly might be a good solution

SteveButtry (Director of Community Engagement & Social Media for Journal Register Co.): You mean digital all week long, right?

NancyCBarnes: Right, but we see a strong Sunday paper for many years to come. It’s our engine.

CaroleTarrant (Roanoke Times editor): How much of Sunday growth is tied to coupon craziness?

NancyCBarnes: We see even younger readers buying the Sunday paper for lots of reasons from content to coupons. I don’t think it’s all coupon craziness. Our focus groups showed people still liked to read a paper on Sunday.

CWNutt (ex-Gannett editor and consultant): Do you promote heavily between Sunday print and weekday digital? Anything work particularly well?

NancyCBarnes: We promote Sunday heavily online. We have premium stories we hold out, to get people to link up their subscriptions. We also promote the digital from the paper. These past weeks we’ve been promoting the new tablet app a lot in print, for example.

WSJeditor (Wisconsin State Journal editor John Smalley): Wondering how much premium content is held out, and for how long. Any pushback from readers? We do the same here.

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NancyCBarnes: Re: premium content. We hold out from six to 12 big stories and it has helped drive some subsuscriptions. Paying subscribers have been very supportive. Some initial pushback from online readers but that has faded…. The real test will be with the meter goes on, hopefully in October

ASNEchat: Q2: How are you covering Michelle Bachmann, anything special planned with digital?

NancyCBarnes: We have assigned Kevin Diaz, a DC reporter, to cover her fulltime plus we have others doing more background research… Bachmann has been fascinating to cover, for years. We never anticipated her presidential bid though.

ASNEchat: Q3: You compete with MinnPost, one of the most prominent online news sites. How would you rate it, and how’s the relationship?

NancyCBarnes: I don’t really see MinnPost as a competitor; they focus more on being a second read. Some original reporting, and lots of commentary. Sometimes they are able to do more commentary than we are, when there is a big new story. I’d say the relationship is relatively cordial. Many of their writers are former Strib reporters who took buyouts a few years ago.

SteveButtry: Do you link to MinnPost stories if they break something, or if they provide more info on a story you’re covering?

NancyCBarnes: They generally don’t break a lot of news, but we will link on occasion when there is relevant commentary.

ASNEchat: Q4: The Star-Tribune is creating a suite of high school sports sites. Why, and what have you learned?

NancyCBarnes: Q4. The goal is to reach more readers where they live. Sports is huge in Minn. Eventually, we’ll do very targeted advertising… But it’s a lot of work in advance to track down every athlete, coach, score, etc. And a big investment to build all the sites. 

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SteveButtry: Are your sports staffs liveblogging and/or live-tweeting games? Promoting fan tweets?

NancyCBarnes: Steve, the staff is tweeting and blogging a lot. I have some concerns that the tweeting sometimes takes away from work for us. 

SteveButtry: Tweeting is “work for us,” especially if you feed the tweets into a liveblog on your site.

NancyCBarnes: Steve, we need a new content management system to expedite blog posts. That’s part of our issue.

SteveButtry: Even if you can’t feed tweets into site (which I doubt), reporter tweets build brand and connect w/ digital audience. Yes, it’s complex, but Twitter engagement that’s not just spewing links is definitely work for the newsroom. 

NancyCBarnes: I don’t disagree with that assessment Steve. I think it’s a complex balancing act, deciding how much time to spend on social media. And we can feed blogposts directly to the site, it’s just slower for the staff than twitter is. Needs to be faster and easier.

ASNEchat: Q5: You’ve led the newsroom through two ownership changes, bankruptcy and uncertainty. What leadership tools did you draw on? 

NancyCBarnes: I spent an enormous amount of time communicating with private equity, distressed debt specialists, etc. to protect content to get them to see the value for the company. I had to show staff and public I believe in a future even in the worst of times. We also had to affect change in the midst of crisis, integrating digital working throughout the newsroom

Provoeditor (Daily Herald editor Randy Wright): Nancy — Can general interest journalism ever be supported without print? I’m not seeing any signs that it can. 

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NancyCBarnes: That’s a tough question. We couldn’t support it without the revenue Sunday brings us, for sure. But the digital revenue continues to grow and we don’t have those big operational costs. That’s why I said earlier we think Sunday print and digital might be the future. But that’s very longterm. We still sell a lot of daily papers

Provoeditor: How long is long term in your view?

NancyCBarnes:  I don’t think I’d want to hazard a guess. Not in the next five years.

NancyCBarnes: Thanks for inviting me. Good luck to everyone. I truly believe that finding the right answer is a labor of love.