Making sense of the Portland Press Herald’s elimination of its Monday print edition

Those of us who have followed the transition of newspapers from print to free digital and, now, to paid digital have long predicted that seven-day print will eventually morph into one weekend print edition supplemented by digital the rest of the week.

Last week the Portland Press Herald announced it would take a step in that direction, eliminating its Monday print edition starting in March. Like many papers, the Press Herald has been emphasizing paid digital, so a cutback on print should be seen as an inevitable next step rather than the beginning of the end.

Still, I was curious about the decision to cut print on Monday. Among those of us who follow such things, the speculation usually involves eliminating the Saturday paper, or publishing the big Sunday paper on Saturday as an all-weekend edition. (The Sunday edition of the Press Herald is called the Maine Sunday Telegram.)

According to the Press Herald’s latest filing with the Alliance for Audited Media, the Saturday print edition is slightly larger than the Monday edition (25,450 to 25,358). The Saturday edition, though, gets an artificial boost — the Press Herald offers a four-day Thursday-through-Sunday print subscription as a cheaper alternative to seven-day (soon to be six-day) print. Paid Sunday print circulation is 40,091.

Still, anyone who’s paged through the Monday edition of a local daily newspaper knows that advertising on that day is virtually non-existent. So, for a variety of reasons, the Press Herald probably made the right choice.

Also, Kris Olson offers this:

The Press Herald isn’t the first daily paper to cut print days. It’s worth watching, though, because the owner, Reade Brower (who also owns most of the daily newspapers in Maine as well as a few weeklies), seems committed to coming up with a long-term strategy for economic sustainability. Press Herald publisher Lisa DeSisto tells her paper that the Monday move will enable the paper to avoid cutting staff.

Perhaps he might consider emulating the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which last year eliminated print except on Sundays and gave its paid subscribers free iPads so they could continue to read the paper online.

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Here are three new reasons to be optimistic about local news

Note: Make that four reasons. See update below.

The crisis in local news won’t be solved all at once. Rather, it will be solved community by community as entrepreneurial-minded journalists seek to fill the gaps left behind by corporate-owned chain newspapers. Here are three new reasons to be optimistic.

In Maine, the Portland Phoenix, the last of the great Phoenix alternative weeklies, is scheduled to relaunch this coming Wednesday under new ownership after ceasing publication earlier this year. The free paper and website are part of New Portland Publishing Co., headed by Marian McCue and Karen Wood.

The relaunch was announced Oct. 22 by Marian McCue and Karen Wood, principals of New Portland Publishing Co. McCue will serve as the editor and Mo Mehlsak, most recently executive editor of The Forecaster, American Journal and Lakes Region Weekly newspapers, will be managing editor.

“While we always admired the energy of the Phoenix, and the strong entertainment coverage, our focus will be more on news and analysis, and in-depth investigative stories that explore the challenges facing this area,” McCue said in a press release announcing the new venture.

Added Wood: “We’ve had a very positive response from early conversations with advertisers and people in the community. We are convinced that a free distribution newspaper will be successful, and provide an effective forum for our advertisers.”

The new Portland Phoenix has a stiff challenge ahead of it in the form of the daily Portland Press Herald, the flagship of a Maine-based chain. The Press Herald is considerably more robust than papers owned by the national chains, and the publisher — Lisa DeSisto — is an alumnus of The Boston Phoenix who knows how to put out a paper oriented toward arts and entertainment. (Note: I worked with Lisa at the Phoenix for several years.)

Still, it’s fantastic news that someone is going to try to revive the Phoenix in Portland, which is the sort of smaller city that ought to be able to support an alt-weekly.

***

Bill Wasserman is one of Eastern Massachusetts’ legendary local newspaper owners. Founder of the Ipswich Chronicle, he built that into a chain of about a dozen North Shore papers and sold them in 1986. Those papers eventually were acquired by GateHouse Media, and Wasserman has been grousing about what happened to them ever since. Earlier this year, GateHouse got rid of the Ipswich Chronicle as a standalone title, merging it with two other papers.

In an interview for CommonWealth Magazine in 2008, Wasserman told me the main problem with corporate ownership was a failure to understand that, even in the best of times, community journalism is little more than a break-even proposition. “I was paid a salary, which was modest,” said Wasserman. “The reward was not in the profit. The reward was having a lot of fun putting out a community paper.”

Now Wasserman has gone back to the future, lending his expertise as a consultant and ad salesman to a start-up called Ipswich Local News — a free paper and website that is seeking nonprofit status. The editor and publisher is John Muldoon.

***

Jenn Lord Paluzzi holds the distinction of being laid off by two national chains — GateHouse (at The MetroWest Daily News) and MediaNews Group (at The Sun of Lowell). Now she’s launched a community news site in her hometown of Grafton called Grafton Common that is loaded with local news.

Some years back, Lord Paluzzi was involved in a startup called Greater Grafton. But that venture ended up getting sold to a chain of local websites that ended up going out of business. Best of luck to her as she goes off on her own once again.

Update: And a fourth — how could I forget the recently launched Provincetown Independent?

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Stephen King’s tweet saves local book reviews at the Maine Sunday Telegram

Stephen King is no longer singing the local-book-review blues. Photo (cc) 2013 by the USO.

This is a hoot. After the Portland Press Herald made it known that it would drop freelance-written reviews of local books as a cost-saving measure, Maine’s favorite author, Stephen King, lodged a protest on Twitter and urged his followers to do the same.

The Press Herald responded that if King could persuade at least 100 people to buy digital subscriptions, they would restore the reviews to the Sunday edition, known as the Maine Sunday Telegram:

It worked, and the book reviews will return next Sunday. “It’s a Stephen King story with a happy ending,” publisher Lisa DeSisto told The New York Times. (I worked with DeSisto at The Boston Phoenix many years ago, and she makes a cameo in “The Return of the Moguls.”)

Let me pour just a small amount of lukewarm water on all this. First, cutting local book reviews without consulting readers makes as little sense as, oh, slashing the Sunday funnies. Second, I hope this doesn’t become a habit. Hey, let’s tell everyone we’re going to stop covering restaurants unless we can sell 1,000 more subscriptions.

Still, this is a great story. I’m glad King’s influence did the trick.

Clarification: There was no public announcement that the Press Herald was planning to drop local reviews, but freelance contributors were made aware of it. I’ve rewritten the top to reflect that.

Monday update: Publishers Weekly has an especially detailed account of what went down. Also, King’s gambit did not save jobs elsewhere at the Press Herald:

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Lisa DeSisto leaves Globe, heads north

Lisa DeSisto

Big news coming out of the Boston Globe today: Lisa DeSisto, chief advertising officer of Boston Globe Media and general manager of Boston.com, is leaving to become chief executive officer of MaineToday Media and publisher of the Portland Press Herald.

I worked with Lisa at the Phoenix back in the 1990s, and I think I can safely say that the Globe will miss her. Just recently, Lisa came up with the idea of launching an online radio station at Boston.com, RadioBDC, featuring several folks who had been laid off when the Phoenix sold WFNX Radio. WFNX continues online as well, and is formally relaunching on Oct. 31.

Here’s the announcement from Globe publisher Christopher Mayer:

I’d like to update everyone on a change in the leadership of the Globe. After 17 years, Lisa DeSisto will be leaving the Globe to become chief executive officer of MaineToday Media and the publisher of the Portland Press Herald. Lisa’s contributions to the Globe and Boston.com have been enormous, and she will be missed.

Fortunately, she has a strong team in place. Jason Kissell, Jane Bowman, and Tom Cole will report to me. Jason Kissell, vice president for advertising, will take on all advertising sales responsibilities, including digital advertising operations. Jane Bowman, executive director of advertising, will retain her business development responsibilities and add oversight of marketing and RadioBDC. Tom Cole, executive director of business development, will continue in the role of strategic planning and development for advertising.

Lisa will be with us for the next two weeks. During that time, she will help with the transition. Though we will miss her creativity, enthusiasm, and friendship, this is a great opportunity for her. Please join me in wishing her well in her new role.

And here is the MaineToday announcement.