San Francisco's two daily newspapers are seriously considering reducing their web widths, the production chief of their joint operating agency says.
No final decision has yet been made on whether to reduce the web width to 50 inches at the morning San Francisco Chronicle and evening Examiner. But the San Francisco Newspaper Agency, which handles noneditorial functions for both papers, has worked up numbers on newsprint savings and equipment retrofit costs, has run the idea past focus groups of readers, and has produced a prototype.
Competing papers in the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere in Northern California already have gone to narrower web widths, including the Oakland Tribune and nearly all its sister papers in the Alameda Newspaper Group, plus the San Mateo Times.
John Dennan, vice president of production for the San Francisco Newspaper Agency, told a session at the first annual America West regional operations and technical conference that the JOA calculates web reduction will produce a net financial gain virtually immediately.
Annual newsprint savings should run $4 million to $5 million depending on prices, while the cost of retrofitting equipment was pegged at $1.5 million.
Dennan said a focus group of subscribers who get both a San Francisco paper and the already-narrower San Mateo Times reacted well to a prototype of the Examiner as it would look if printed on a 50-inch web.
"By and large, readers did not notice the difference," Dennan said. "The comments were made that it was easier to read during commutes.... They liked the environmental aspects."
There were minor complaints about the more cramped classified ads and sports agate, but no complaints at all about distorted images, he added.
"I think the biggest resistance we're getting is from the newsroom, where they feel they don't want to put out a less-than-perfect product," Dennan said.
If the San Francisco papers do go to 50 inches, Dennan said, they will follow the procedure many other newspapers have taken.
"We'll paste up full-size and reduce the image through facsimile equipment to our three satellite printing plants," he said.
Dennan said the agency "still has a lot of work to do with the newsroom," but the production chief himself seems a fan of narrow web width.
"I don't think it takes anything away from the newspaper at all," he said. "It makes it easier to handle and transport around."
U.S. daily newspapers consumed 696,000 metric tons of newsprint in August, 0.4% more than a year earlier, according to the Newspaper Association of America.
Consumption has risen steadily through the year, eventually catching up with the 1995 level in July. August showed the first year-to-year rise in consumption, and the NAA projects a 2.2% rise for September. As use increased through the first six months, the price per ton dropped by almost $200. Avenor Inc. reported North American prices dropped approximately 13% in the third quarter. …