On Tuesday morning, Seattle became a one-newspaper town, as the 146-year-old Seattle Post-Intelligencer printed its last edition and became a Web-only publication. Words from Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen reflect the prevailing sentiment: “Though The Seattle Times and the Seattle P-I have been fiercely competitive, we find no joy in the loss of any journalistic voice. Today’s announcement is an acknowledgement that in the current economy it is a struggle for even a single newspaper to be profitable and impossible for multiple papers in a single market.”
A struggle for even a single newspaper to be profitable and impossible for multiple papers in a single market. On the heels of the Rocky Mountain News’s closure, the question may seem rather non sequitur: What’s the future of the two-paper town? It’s an academic question as much as it is a practical one. “There’s no substitute for competing newspapers in journalism,” newspaper analyst John Morton tells us. “However, it doesn’t have great national significance because the two-newspaper town has just about disappeared in this country. This has been going on, the closing of the weaker of two papers, for fifty years, and we’re getting to the end of it.” And indeed, the conversation has raced forward to qualify (and in some cases try to quantify) the trickle down to zero.
Asked about the significance of slowly losing the two-paper town, newspaper analyst Lauren Fine tells us via e-mail: “Given the struggles of the industry and newspapers in towns with just one, it isn’t surprising that it is hard to make two economic.” Without sugarcoating it, she adds, “Arguably, competition makes the product stronger but there is so much competition online and elsewhere that I don’t think it means much at all.” Nevertheless, we wanted to take a look at which major metropolitan areas still do have two competing papers, and how they’re weathering the storm.*
The Boston Globe (daily circulation 323,983)’s news-gathering operation has reportedly shrunk from a full-time staff of 552 in 2000 (not including the staff of boston.com) to 379 in 2009 (including boston.com). In January, management announced another round of buyouts (and possibly layoffs) directed at the newsroom.
For the six-month period ended September 30, the Boston Herald saw daily average weekday circulation fall 9.9 percent to 167,506 copies, compared to the same six-month period in 2007, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations data. In December, Herald publisher Patrick Purcell said he was committed to keeping Boston a two-newspaper city.
After declaring bankruptcy last December, the beleaguered parent company of the Chicago Tribune (weekday circulation 516,032) has most recently been in the news for postponing plans to sell the Tribune Tower, the 940,000-square-foot tower at 435 N. Michigan Ave. that houses the Tribune newsroom, because of the “moribund” downtown real estate market.
Meanwhile, since Feb. 18, the Chicago Sun-Times (weekday circulation 313,176) has had a new editor, Don Hayner. The change comes at a time when the paper’s parent company, the Sun-Times Media Group, is dealing with a new board of directors and a Conrad Black-era tax bill of up to $600 million. In January, Alan Mutter of Newsosaur called the Sun-Times “the No. 2 newspaper in what, at best, has become a 1½ newspaper town.”
Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas
Not quite a two-paper town, but perhaps close enough. The Dallas Morning News, owned by the A.H. Belo Corporation, has a daily circulation of about 350,000. Following a joint distribution agreement with its main competitor in the area, McClatchy’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram, last September, the two papers have begun sharing content. In early March, Star-Telegram publisher Gary Wortel announced that the paper would reduce its work force by about 12 percent and also cut wages. Beginning Mar. 30, the single-copy price of the weekday Star-Telegram (circulation just over 200,000) will double to $1, and its Sunday edition will go for $2, which match the Morning News’s current prices.
In December, Detroit Media Partnership CEO Dave Hunke, publisher of the Detroit Free Press, announced that, starting March 30, both the Free Press and the Detroit News (also operated by the partnership) will limit home delivery to Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. The rest of the week, the newspapers (thinner, but with less advertising) will be available at newsstands. The intended effect, as reported in the Free Press: to “allow both papers to maintain their news-gathering forces, shift resources to their Web sites, develop new ways to deliver information digitally, enhance multimedia offerings—and, for the foreseeable future, keep Detroit one of the nation’s few remaining two-newspaper towns.” The Free Press, a Gannett paper, has a weekday circulation of 298,243; the News, a Media News Group paper, has a weekday circulation of 188,000.