Magazine article Editor & Publisher

One Trib Paper Leads the Way

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

One Trib Paper Leads the Way

Article excerpt

Long before Tribune executives announced at the beginning of June a plan to use a 50/50 ad-to-edit ratio as a yardstick for its stable of papers, the Orlando Sentinel was in the thick of revamping its printed pages. A change, they believed, would inspire a surge in local readership and wring costs from operations.

Barely three weeks after that fateful Tribune conference call, the Orlando Sentinel on June 22 unveiled its new look, with more graphs, "charticles," looming pictures, and liberal use of colors like aqua, pink, lilac, red and avocado -- save for its flag, which is now swathed in black. Depending on your sense of humor these days, black is a pitch-perfect choice as the newspaper industry gropes its way through 2008.

And that's precisely what is driving the redesign, say the paper's executives.

"It was not a directive back in March," Orlando Sentinel Editor Charlotte Hall says of the re-do. The paper already devised a roadmap independently before Tribune issued the marching orders. A revamp had been on editors' minds for some time, she explains -- and in the spring, Lee Abrams, Tribune's chief innovation officer, "came down here a couple of times. By the time he came, we already had something to show him. He was actually quite helpful and was very supportive."

Orlando had to transform at a speed typically not reached by newspapers. Redesigns are famously drawn-out affairs consisting of focus groups, outside consultants, and lots of input (sometimes from advertisers) about the smallest detail. The Orlando Sentinel took about three and-a-half months from whiteboard to press.

Oddly, the Sentinel was one of the few metro papers that actually saw a bump in its average daily Monday-through-Friday circulation this year. It rose 0.3% to 227,593 copies for the six months ending March 2008, where its peers' circulation on average fell about 3.4%, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. It was relatively stable circulation, too: other-paid for the period was at 7% of total circ, while discounted copies stood at 22%. The rest, 70%, was the highly coveted 50% or higher paid circ.

To sit back and bask in 0.3% was untenable, since Florida continues to feel the effects of the real estate crisis -- which has spread to just about every other ad category. Tribune's $13 billion debt puts extra pressure on its properties; it didn't take Tribune owner Sam Zell to announce the morph initiative for executives in Orlando to know they had to slash costs. With the price of newsprint expected to jump 17.9% to $700/ton on average in 2008 (according to Goldman Sachs estimates), Orlando chose to cut its newshole and paper consumption. And as E&P went to press, Orlando had begun to quietly cut up to 20% of its newsroom staff.

Hall, along with Howard Greenberg, publisher of both the Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Ft. Lauderdale, knew they had to go into action. "We had already planned to reduce our newshole independently," he says. "You didn't have to be a genius in our business to know what is going on."

Greenberg declined to answer how many pages they stripped out of the Orlando Sentinel but he did say they are now pretty close to the 50/50 ratio. The paper is undergoing a second phase of its redesign, which involves typographical elements, and will move the needle a little more in order to get fully to 50/50 by the end of summer.

In editorial, the Sentinel is running the occasional half-page vertical spadia -- a gatefold ad format -- to shave consumption. "You are going to see more of that in the industry now to minimize newsprint," Greenberg notes. "It won't be rampant, but it happens from time to time" to keep from jumping stories. In the July 3 edition, for example, a spadia appears in the middle of the "Style & Trends" section. And the format has been used in the classifieds and Op-Ed sections, too.

"We wanted to radically change the paper," says Greenberg. …

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