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. 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.

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.

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? http://bit.ly/qxsgc7

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. 

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. 

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.

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by rolf westgard on 09/06/2011 - 06:13 pm.

    I love my morning Strib. I an one of those who would really miss the paper version.

  2. Submitted by Jeff Michaels on 09/07/2011 - 08:43 am.

    I clearly recall the advocate of a cable television company seeking the cable franchise for the city of St. Louis Park in 1970 saying there would be no movie theaters in the year 2000 because people would be able to watch movies at home.

    City council member Len Thiel responded that as long as there are parents and teenagers who want to get out of the house on Friday night, there will be movie theaters. Last time I looked, parents, teenagers and movie theaters are still around.

    Going by past history, I think newspapers and magazines will find a way to stick around.

  3. Submitted by M L on 09/07/2011 - 08:47 am.

    Anyone notice the Strib started limiting viewers to 20 story views a week and now requires people to register for their site if you want to read more?

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/07/2011 - 08:59 am.

    A relative newbie here, but a certified old person, I’ve been accustomed to reading the morning paper for many years. I don’t know how it measures up in terms of professional journalism, but compared to the Denver Post, I’m not all that impressed with the ‘Strib, which tends to be, editorially, too knee-jerk corporate-supporting for my tastes.

    Still, I tried the PiPress and found it wanting, and the paper in my former home area of St. Louis, the Post-Dispatch, keeps shrinking – thinner paper, smaller pages, less content. The Denver Post is more robust than the Post-Dispatch currently, but it, too, has been shrinking. Compared to that, the ‘Strib still seems like a “real” newspaper, if not as solidly on the side of working people editorially as I’d like.

    Like Rolf, then, I’d really miss the morning paper, and I’m inclined to agree with Nancy that MinnPost is a “second read.” I read the ‘Strib over breakfast, and MinnPost later on in the day, along with other news and commentary sites. I’d not be happy with the combination of a Sunday physical paper in combination with online-only daily content from the ‘Strib. If it’s the only game in town – as seems to be the case now in metro terms – I’d probably feel compelled to subscribe, but it’s not a combination that I’d like.

    Part of my objection to online content has been, and continues to be, readability. Screen resolution on most computers is still ragged, to say the least, in comparison to print on a page, so font sizes have to be correspondingly larger to make the story readable. That ends up making stories of any substantial length be the sort that take up multiple, sometimes many, “pages,” and slogging through them seems to be one of the things that slows down websites quite a bit.

    On the other hand, computers obviously have the edge when it comes to graphic content, since color, photos, charts and other graphic elements can now be done far more easily on a screen than the still-complicated process required to put them on a page, especially when that still-complicated process begins with them on a screen in the first place.

    Like the disappearance of thoughtful, moderate Republicans, the shift to mostly online content will take place whether I like it or not. It will simply be one more aspect of 21st century life that annoy me as I march into genuinely old age…

  5. Submitted by Sherry Gunelson on 09/07/2011 - 09:47 am.

    I don’t think the Strib can make it online. Most stories come from AP. Haven’t looked at their site on-line for a few years because the comments were so horrid – they let anyone comment on anything – and it was depressing to think so many people you worked with or drove alongside with were so hate-filled.

    Ask yourself, if you are looking for news on-line would you go to the Strib? I wouldn’t.

  6. Submitted by Pat McGee on 09/07/2011 - 11:12 am.

    Ray #4-The other aspect of computer readability is that it is impossible to scan/skim at a glance an article of any reasonable length. With print I can, and do, glance at the opening and ending paragraphs as well as points along the middle to get the gist and flow of the presentation before I dig in for the details.

  7. Submitted by dan buechler on 09/07/2011 - 02:31 pm.

    #4 I like the old paper paper. I was employed 26 years by it. Recently I did have to change the font size to read price numbers. And #6 with Slate magazine you can preview the ending.

  8. Submitted by James Walsh on 09/08/2011 - 06:09 pm.

    Regarding comment number 4:

    “I don’t think the Strib can make it online. Most stories come from AP. Haven’t looked at their site on-line for a few years because the comments were so horrid – they let anyone comment on anything – and it was depressing to think so many people you worked with or drove alongside with were so hate-filled.

    Ask yourself, if you are looking for news on-line would you go to the Strib? I wouldn’t.”

    While I understand the aversion to the Star Tribune’s comments — I am less than crazy about them myself — how is it that you can say that most Star Tribune stories come from AP…when you haven’t looked at the Strib web site for a few years?

    Really?

  9. Submitted by James Walsh on 09/08/2011 - 06:10 pm.

    I meant: regarding comment #5. First time posting here.

  10. Submitted by Richard O on 09/12/2011 - 01:14 pm.

    “Read” the Sunday Strib? Exactly how does one do that unless scanning ads and coupons constitute someone’s definition of reading. The same goes for the Tuesday edition.

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