Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Syndicated Options for These Challenging Days: The Outlook

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Syndicated Options for These Challenging Days: The Outlook

Article excerpt

With each passing day newspapers continue to cut writers and editors, and there's only so much output they can get from their remaining staffers. But they still have to get the print edition out, and that content has to come from somewhere. So, as budgets and newsholes tighten, one has to wonder what this means for syndicated material -- and what options remain when searching for growth opportunities.

"With a few exceptions, that's one of the great urban myths of our business," says Alan Shearer, executive director and general manager of the Washington Post Writers Group, when asked whether newspapers' loss of manpower is translating into increased sales of syndicated content. "Because saving costs involves not just reducing staff, but reducing space. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise."

"Not only are [newspapers'] resources reduced, but their editorial space is reduced also," concurs Lisa Klem Wilson, senior vice president/general manager of syndicates at United Media. "We have to be creative about what we give them, and what they can use and sell against."

Newspapers, she notes, have to be "more clever" in that regard, and some have done just that by purchasing packages of syndicated content on weddings, gardening or home repair, all topics that continue to prove popular with readers -- and local advertisers.

Wilson says comics and puzzles remain very popular ("in any kind of market," she points out), punditry less so. She says newspapers are electing to run fewer syndicated columnists on the Op-Ed page, and some columnists are also disappearing from financial pages as those sections are reduced or consolidated into other sections.

Cheryl Whitsitt, managing editor of The Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader, says, "We tried to take a look at syndicated solutions where they target more to your area," but her paper hasn't taken on any new features in several years. Instead, these days its editorial page features more letters from readers, encouraging more local conversation. "This is a local newspaper, that is our mandate," she adds. "We're filling those spaces with getting more of our own folks involved, rather than going the syndicated route."

Some papers, like The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J., say their use of syndicated content has held steady ("No changes here," reports Editor Jim Willse), while others have trimmed. At The Fresno (Calif.) Bee, "We've cut back slightly," says Features Editor Kathy Mahan. "With fewer pages and tighter budgets, we've had to adjust. We dropped one column so far for this year, mainly to offset a rate increase."

Mary Elson, managing editor at Tribune Media Services, tells E&P, "A lot of editors don't want to reach that threshold, but you reach a certain point where editors don't have a choice -- and start looking for less expensive ways to get quality content." Most of the conversations she's had recently with editors have "centered around efficiencies, trying to put out really good newspapers for less money. We think we're in a position to offer some really good solutions."

If the money is still there, of course.

"I would like to buy more, but I just can't," says Sonya Colberg, features editor at The Oklahoman in Oklahoma City. Her paper began trimming its syndicated content two years ago (one columnist was cut and the paper switched to a more inexpensive provider for some of its puzzles). Last June it conducted a reader survey to determine which strips would be removed from its comics page. …

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