March 17, 2010

Cuts won't affect paper's mission

Creating This

— If you're reading this column, you're probably a loyal reader of this newspaper. And when I write this column, I imagine that I'm speaking to you.

You are a member of that coveted group we call our ''core readers.'' Demographically, you tend to be 44 years of age or older; you own your home; you are married or in a two-adult household; you have a college education; you have a higher income level than the Maine market average.

Many of you work in professional or technical careers, are self-employed or retired. Many of you are empty-nesters. You tend to be older Gen-Xers, boomers or the parents of boomers. You represent a huge cohort of people with sizable amounts of disposable income. And you love to read newspapers.

But let's go back to the age data again. Our core audience is solidly middle-aged or older. What about the younger folks?

Generally speaking, they're getting their news from Web sites and cell phones and the electronic media. While newspapers have launched scores of initiatives to try to draw younger readers to the printed page, that battle has pretty much been lost to generational and technological forces.

Meantime, the Web and technology continue to fundamentally alter how people communicate, get news and stay connected. The speed of that change is staggering. According to one statistic, a new blog is launched on the Web every one-half second.

And the public at large -- including the most loyal newspaper reader, no matter what age or generation -- is using the Web in growing numbers every day.

I wanted to draw this backdrop to help you understand the context of some disappointing news I must tell you today.

Due to economic factors, we have had to change the journalistic offerings in our newspaper on three days of the week -- Monday, Saturday and Sunday.

On Monday and Saturday, our newspaper will go from a four-section format to a two-section one. The A-section will contain local news, business, world and nation, editorial and op-ed. The B-section will contain sports and lifestyles coverage. By creating this configuration, we will reduce the news offerings by 51/2 pages, total. That includes the elimination of Monday Magazine and Monday's iHerald page.

The iHerald will continue to thrive on our Web site, pressherald.com, under the apt reporting of staff writer Justin Ellis. His column, ''NXT: The Next Generation,'' which used to run in Monday Magazine, will be featured on Monday's Page 1. It also will continue in its expanded format online.

The changes start this week.

Next Sunday, we will eliminate Maine Life. The section will now start with Home & Garden. We also will combine our Business Sunday and Insight sections into one section and reduce both offerings by two pages. The net reduction in Sunday content is six pages.

On the wire service side, we are dropping the Christian Science Monitor wire and plan to phase out The Washington Post/Los Angeles Times wire. We will continue to receive an extensive Associated Press wire feed and the McClatchyTribune Information Services wire.

There's no sugarcoating the reasons we reluctantly are taking these difficult steps. As a business, we have less revenue coming in, in the form of advertising, to support our journalistic endeavors.

It comes down to math -- it takes a lot of money to operate a quality newspaper. It takes a staff of qualified journalists and sales folks, expensive wire services, pages and pages of costly newsprint and a nearly round-the-clock production enterprise.

Here in Maine, we've been buffeted by the dramatic waves of media transformation hitting the country. Some have called it a tsunami. With the rise of the Web and the loss of advertising that was once the exclusive domain of newspapers -- think about all those classified and recruitment ads you've bought and read over the years -- papers across the nation have to adjust.

''Adjust'' means a smaller work force and a different product. Last week, our newspaper cut 27 staff positions, 15 of which were occupied. From the newsroom, with a staff of 103 full-time positions, we cut seven posts -- five of which were occupied.

It is very difficult to say goodbye to colleagues and friends. It is very difficult to realize an end to one era is under way.

So is it all doom and gloom? No. We're also seeing the birth of a new era, right before our eyes. Everything media-wise is in flux and undergoing transformation. It's the Industrial Revolution, writ digital.

What is our game plan? In sum, the newspaper must change as our audience changes. And as our readership grows on the Web, we must put more resources into our Web site. We've been doing that since last summer. Our motto: ''Break it on the Web, explain it in print.''

That means for up-to-the-minute news reports, you should turn to pressherald.com. And for explanatory journalism, for enterprise, investigative and context-rich articles that delve into weighty topics such as state budget cuts, health care reform, public safety issues and the daily churn of community news, you should turn to the newspaper.

Our newspaper stands alone in Maine for having the largest news-gathering staff. And, quite purposefully, none of the personnel reductions made last week affected our reporter staff.

In addition to our central Portland newsroom, we have three Maine news bureaus -- Biddeford, Bath and Augusta. We also have a Washington, D.C., correspondent who covers our congressional delegation from a desk at the Capitol. This year, we have a very aggressive election plan that includes live coverage from both national political conventions in Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul. And one of our sports reporters, Mike Lowe, is traveling to Beijing to cover Mainers in the summer Olympics.

It's also interesting to note that our newsroom, with its ample staff of journalists, remains the news-origination engine for Maine. What you see on television and hear on radio often is a pickup of news and information that we have reported first, either through our newspaper or our Web site. Nothing against our colleagues at other media companies, but this comes down to simple math, too: We have more journalists, more boots on the ground, than any other news organization in Maine.

Further, when you take our Web readership through pressherald.com and MaineToday.com and add that to our newspaper readership, we are reaching a larger audience than at any time in our history.

A March 2008 American Opinion Research study of this phenomenon found: ''The Portland Press Herald and the Maine Sunday Telegram reach the vast majority of adults in its market and an important percent of this is from online usage. Just under two-thirds of all adults (63%) read the printed Portland Press Herald or Maine Sunday Telegram during an average 7-day week.''

Other findings:

''MaineToday.com adds five percentage points to the printed newspapers' reach, higher than we see in most markets. The total aggregate reach of the Portland Press Herald, Maine Sunday Telegram and MaineToday.com is 68 percent of all adults. This is equal to 264,700 consumers.''

Still, something called ''reader frequency'' is an issue for our newspaper. That means not all of our readers are seven-day-a-week subscribers. And younger folks, who are busy launching their careers or raising children at home, have less time to devote to reading a newspaper.

Given those conclusions, which match results from earlier studies, we need to expand our online and alternative print offerings. In our business it's known as ''portfolio diversification'' and it means creating products -- in both print and online -- that are not part of the newspaper but whose revenue can be used to support the journalism of the newspaper.

Next week, I'll share with you some of the specific initiatives we're undertaking in this regard.

Jeannine Guttman is editor and vice president of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. Send e-mail to jguttman@pressherald.com or write to 390 Congress St., Portland, ME 04101.

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)