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Loss of ‘daily’ newspapers accelerating

American newspapers are moving away from daily publication, often to three days a week. Soon, New Orleans will be the largest U.S. city without a daily paper.

A Times-Picayune newsstand on a deserted downtown street
REUTERS/Mark Wallheiser

It’s clear that MinnPost readers appreciate the value of a daily newspaper. So they may be interested to know that growing numbers of American newspapers are moving away from daily publication.

In May, Advance Publications announced that it would shift to three-day-a-week publishing at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and at three newspapers in Alabama.

When the shift takes place in October, New Orleans will be the largest city in the United States without a daily newspaper. Three of the four largest cities in Alabama – Mobile, Huntsville and Birmingham – also will no longer host a daily.

Drastic staff cuts are taking place at the papers, as a new Web-centric business model requires fewer bodies. About half of the news positions at the Times-Picayune are being slashed, although company officials have said they may selectively add more jobs once the dust settles. The newsroom cuts were even more severe in Alabama, with the three newspapers combined losing about two-thirds of their news staffs.

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Advance is owned by the wealthy Newhouse family, among whose other holdings are American City Business Journals (including the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal), Condé Nast Publications (including the New Yorker) and Parade magazine.

A couple of years ago, Advance went to three- or four-day publication schedules at a group of small and mid-market newspapers in Michigan – such places as Grand Rapids, Flint and Kalamazoo. And now a weekly in Portland, Ore., is reporting that plans are afoot to shift the Advance-owned Oregonian to less-than-daily publication.

The journalism world became agitated at news of the Times-Picayune’s fate, but I imagine there’d be even more of an outcry if the Oregonian were to follow suit. The paper is one of the top 20 nationally in circulation and is professionally well-respected, having won five Pulitzer prizes in the last 20 years. In size and statewide influence, it occupies a position similar to that of the Star Tribune in Minnesota.

The report in Willamette Week is based on information from unnamed Oregonian staffers. But it gained credence in my mind when I read the careful, lawyerly response of N. Christian Anderson III, the paper’s publisher.

“I have not told people that we’re changing our publishing schedule,” Anderson told the weekly. “Nor have I hinted at that.” Notice he didn’t say there would be no change – merely that he hadn’t told anyone about it.

So far, the Star Tribune has insisted that a reduced publication schedule isn’t in its plans. Last year, Publisher Michael Klingensmith told my MinnPost colleague David Brauer that “daily print is not going anywhere anytime soon.”

As a daily reader of the printed paper, I hope that continues to be the case. But no doubt other newspaper companies are going to be closely watching the results of the Advance experiment with curtailed print publication.

As the newspaper business continues to lose readers and advertisers, its stodgy owners finally appear ready to take drastic steps, rather than just tinkering at the margins of a struggling business model.