Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Converting to Daily

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Converting to Daily

Article excerpt

A STAGNANT U.S. economy may have speeded the loss of 25 daily newspaper titles last year, but it didn't stop Independent Newspapers Inc. from creating two dailies last month from its stable of non-dailies.

The thrice-weekly Okeechobee News in Florida and the twice-weekly Whale in Lewes, Del., began publishing seven days a week in September. Each premiered with 12 broadsheet pages and a cover price of 35.

The News started with 5,000 circulation, the Whale 8,500.

"The markets are ready for them," said Judith Roales, president of Dover, Del.-based Independent Newspapers. "You have to make an investment in your area at some time."

Research indicated readers wanted a daily paper, and Roales said it was easier to "grow with a community" by converting to daily publication -- even in a weak economy -- than to start a daily from scratch.

Besides the timing in an economy that remains sluggish, what set the conversions apart was the absence of the Associated Press.

Since the long decline of United Press International, AP has had little competition as the dominant U.S. fullservice news agency providing dailies with state, national and international news. Out of 1,586 dailies listed in the 1992 Editor & Publisher International YearBook, AP claims 1,561 members.

Instead of going with the world's largest news-gathering organization to fill a couple of columns a day of non-local news, the new dailies signed on for an abbreviated report from Zapnews, a Fairfax, Va.-based company supplying mainly small radio stations.

"What we have is an alternative to the AP for small newspapers," Roales said.

Independent said its other two dailies -- the five-day, 7'000'circulation Daily Banner in Cambridge, Md., and seven-day, 23,000-circulation Delaware State News in Dover -- have resigned from AP and plan to switch to Zapnews.

Roales met with AP president and general manager Louis D. Boccardi and other AP executives to explain Independent's resignation from the cooperative and "begged them to find a way to handle small papers" with a less expensive service.

"While they listened, it was clear they weren't going to do anything to change," Roales said. "We felt compelled to find something that would work for us."

Independent worked with Zapnews to develop a service geared for the sharply focused local interest at small papers.

The result is a service delivering a handful of the biggest stories of the day plus several columns of international and national news briefs -- or 15,000 to 20,000 words a day, no pictures -- plus sports agate.

Roales said the service "gives you everything you need -- in a much smaller dose .... We think it allows us to give readers a complete package and still focus on local coverage."

Zapnews, delivered by modem at 2,400 words a minute to Macintosh computers, costs about one-third less than basic AP membership, and that made it "economically more feasible" to go daily, Roales said.

"We think this development is important to local dailies and good for competition in the news business," said Independent chairman Joe Smyth.

AP has since begun testing with five small Donrey dailies a cheaper dial-up service, similar to Zapnews, designed to deliver national and international news, a people column, sports stories and sports agate to very small dailies.

Roales said that moving the State News and Daily Banner to Zapnews will save more money, even with the cost of supplemental services to fill the State News' bigger news hole. She called the shift "a wake-up call" for the AP.

"They just didn't want to pay our price, thats all," Wick Temple, AP vice president and director of newspaper membership, said of Independent's decision to do without AP at its new dailies.

He expressed concern about nearly 100 tiny U.S. dailies that have been so battered by recessionary advertising declines that they can barely afford an editor to edit the AP wire. …

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