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What happens to local journalism on a three-day print cycle?

16 Jan

This morning the company I work for, Digital First Media, announced that one of our daily newspapers, the Oneida Daily Dispatch in upstate New York, will switch to a three-day publishing cycle.

Our employees and readers in Connecticut might be wondering if this is a possibility for the New Haven Register, The Register Citizen or The Middletown Press. The short answer is, “I don’t know,” “unlikely in the immediate future,” and “I’m not afraid of it if that day comes.”doc50f59b969b35b491839571

In the past, print circulation revenue’s share of the pie vs. advertising revenue has scuttled discussions of reducing print frequency of our dailies in Connecticut. I’ve done the math.

But that math is changing across the country, and if the day comes when it makes more sense for us to publish five days, or three days, instead of seven, why wouldn’t we make that switch?

The impetus for change in Oneida came from a competitor’s switch to three days. The Advance Publications daily in Syracuse is switching to three days, and we contract with Syracuse to print and deliver the Oneida Daily Dispatch.

Considering the difficulty of finding a new printer and distributor, we did the math on our own switch to three days and it made sense.

Here are the other reasons it makes sense:

Unlike what you might have heard about the New Orleans Times-Picayune‘s switch to three days, where local journalism resources were gutted, newsroom staffing in Oneida will remain intact.

At the same time, our newsrooms in Connecticut are taking over page layout for the new three-day Oneida print edition. With the same size staff, and no print edition layout sapping the resources of a small newsroom anymore, Oneida will have significantly more resources than before to devote to local journalism.

Oneida’s staff plans to use this new capacity to do more local enterprise and investigative reporting, more comprehensive coverage of local government and new local human interest features.

In considering this issue about reducing print frequency, note that the web audience of newspapers such as the Oneida Daily Dispatch, Register Citizen and Middletown Press is six or seven times the size of their print editions. The launch over the past year of iPad and iPhone/Android apps in Oneida and our other daily newspaper markets is causing that gap to accelerate. Our local news coverage is being introduced to a significantly wider audience through mobile and tablet platforms. In Oneida, those apps present a dynamic alternative for consuming local news as print frequency is reduced.

With the increase in breaking, multimedia and interactive local news coverage, the daily print edition is more and more “outdated.” Printing seven days is about a declining print readership habit, not at all about timeliness of news delivery.

The big question is whether local journalism will improve, decline or stay the same when dailies make this switch to three days.

It’s exciting to see Oneida take a different path than New Orleans by maintaining staffing and being freed up to do better local journalism as part of this switch.

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