Newspapers forced to reinvent selves almost daily

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Posted by on April 27, 2009 at 09:47:45:

Daily newspapers reinvent selves almost daily as economy, market forces press on them

Phil Rosenthal | Chicago Tribune Media

April 26, 2009

MADISON, Wis. -- A daily newspaper, by definition, changes every day.

What a newspaper is and does has tended to change more slowly. At least it did until recently, when mounting economic and market pressures forced this business of words to bow to the business of numbers.

Shrinking margins have made reinvention more likely to come in fits and starts, through surgery rather than evolution, and -- like a breaking news story online -- a work in progress, fixed on the fly, becoming more refined as those working on it gain a greater grasp of the situation.

Each paper is struggling to identify what it does most effectively and how to channel its increasingly limited resources in a way that best capitalizes on that. The new approaches can be every bit as dizzying to those inside newsrooms as to the readers unaccustomed to so much furniture moving.

"I suspect we'll be trying to answer this question for the next two or three years, that we'll be breaking it down to having a conversation of ... how you [cover things] most effectively," said Paul Fanlund, editor of The Capital Times here. "There are different approaches even within our staff."

A year ago this week, Fanlund's paper moved to the forefront of the industry as a pioneer, becoming primarily an online publication after more than 90 years in print.

Besides putting out two weekly sections in print available around town and inserted into copies of Lee Enterprises' Wisconsin State Journal, the market's dominant daily and its partner in Capital Newspapers, the idea was to showcase daily coverage, commentary and analysis online at, where its Web readership had been growing even as its print readership continued its decades-long decline.

And already that Internet plan needs a makeover.

"We're remodeling again to create a that's better than this one and is clearer about what we're trying to do," Fanlund said. "It will have magazine qualities to it. We have a corps of writers we call beat writers but they're really topical experts."

When the Capital Times was the town's afternoon paper, its approach to news differed from the morning State Journal in part because of the different deadlines. The move online resulted in duplicated news stories as both newsrooms rushed straight-forward dispatches onto their respective Web pages, both part of

"Where does the readership and the city most benefit from competition? I would contend it's not a ... weather front coming in or a stickup on Park Street," Fanlund said. "It's enterprise pieces, news features, profiles, investigations."

In Detroit, the two major daily newspapers now limit home delivery only to the most profitable days of the week while pushing readers to their respective Web sites and selling slimmed-down copies at retail outlets the rest of the week.

Rather than fold the Seattle Post-Intelligencer -- as E.W. Scripps did with Denver's Rocky Mountain News -- Hearst Corp. opted to operate the P-I as a Web-only outlet with about half the newsroom staff of the Capital Times.

The Las Vegas Sun, where Brian Greenspun, a director of Chicago Tribune parent Tribune Co., is president and editor, reinvented itself a few years ago as a supplement to its rival and joint-operating-agreement partner, the Las Vegas Review-Journal. It opted to focus on features, enterprise reporting and investigative stories rather than be a full-service paper.

The Sun last week won a Pulitzer Prize for one of its investigations.

"Print is going through a very fundamental change right now," said John Yemma, editor of the Christian Science Monitor. "If you can reduce frequency of print, print is still a good experience. The Sunday paper in most communities will be the last bastion of print. You can get a big New York Times or Chicago Tribune to people's homes and they've got some time to consume it and maybe there's some shelf life to it, especially the inside sections."

Yemma is wrestling with many of the same issues as the Cap Times as his daily paper this month shifted into a weekly print product, competing with the likes of The Economist, with an increased complementary presence at

It's challenging everyone.

"One of the things all of us struggle with, and I think I've moved beyond this, is we yearn for the 1980s and '90s, when there were a certain set of things you did [to get the news out] and it's jarring to retrain and rethink," Fanlund said.

"We're trying," Yemma said. "Everybody's trying something."

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