Thinking the thinkable: Turning dailies into weeklies

Alan Mutter — the US newspaper publisher who writes a blog called Reflections Of A Newsosaur — has been running a series of posts entitled Thinking The Unthinkable.

Mutter suggests that US publishers have prepared “cascading contingency plans that can be implemented according to the degree that sales might decline”.

This sounds a bit like something the emergency services work on before a hurricane arrives in New Orleans. But it’s just common sense, an effort to plan ahead.

Doubtless similar plans are being laid here, too. So I thought it would make sense to look at some of what Mutter is suggesting.

Sadly, most of it is bone-grindingly dreary (and very familiar): selling property to raise capital, asking employees to take pay cuts, cross-industry agreement to share costs.

Mutter also suggests that several newspaper groups have “have stopped preparing the usual 12-month budgets and resorted, instead, to producing rolling, three-month (or shorter) forecasts”.

Once again, this sounds dramatic. But it’s simply good practice.

Short-term budgeting only gets really worrying when it’s necessitated by a struggle to remain solvent on a week-to-week basis. By then, it’s usually too late.

Somewhat optimistically, several US newspaper groups (Copley, Cox and Journal Register) are trying to sell titles. The Journal Register has proclaimed that it will close papers that it cannot sell.

This sounds a bit like leaving a few bits of bric a brac on the pavement outside your house in the hope that someone will haul them away.

This, too, caught my eye:

An amazing number of publishers of all sizes are giving serious consideration to eliminating print editions on certain days of the week. . . Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday editions, which typically carry the least amount of advertising, appear to be at the most risk.

(At Editor and Publisher, Steve Outing concurs: “Better, fatter printed newspapers delivered two or three days a week may be preferable to embarrassingly thin ones seven days a week”.)

Alongside everything else, reducing frequency of publication makes sense. But the shift from daily publication to publication that occurs on apparently random days of the week strikes me as . . . well, a bit odd.

Here in the UK, we might yet see dailies shifting to weekly publication. Weeklies would then be closed, or repositioned as inserts in a bid to keep their mastheads alive.

To the best of my knowledge, this hasn’t yet started happening on a significant scale. That could well change.

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