10/1/12

Changing frequency of newspaper publication is not a sign of the apocalypse

The number of newspapers that have reduced their publication frequency in response to market changes and economic conditions continues to rise.

This year the Times-Herald in Newnan, Georgia shifted from 7 days a week to 5 days per week. The New Orleans Times-Picayune moved to 3-day per week schedule, as has The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., and many papers in the Advance Publications group.

In doing so, the papers are bolstering their digital publications and producing in physical form only on days that most interest retail advertisers. From the financial standpoint, these moves make a great deal of sense.

Reactions to the changes have ranged from disbelief to resignation in the journalism community. Many have bemoaned the loss of dailies and argued non-dailies cannot possibly serve their communities as well. That argument is problematic, of course, because there have typically been 3-4 times more weeklies than dailies in the U.S. and many have done far better jobs covering towns and neighbourhoods than dailies.

The assumption that 7-day per week publication is, and has been, the norm is another example of ahistorical and baseless views spread about the industry these days. In 1950 less than one-third of newspapers (549 papers) published a Sunday edition and the number with Sunday editions peaked at 917 in 2000, being published by just two-thirds of all papers. Saturday editions were not the norm until well after mid-twentieth century. The appearance of high frequency daily publication was fueled by the demands of advertisers.

If one considers the definitions of daily publication one finds that it is nowhere near 7 days per week. The internationally accepted definition of a daily newspaper is a paper published only 4 days per week.

This is not to say that the industry is without problems. The changes in publication frequency do reveal how the inordinate dependence on advertising revenue has shaped the industry and how wealth continues to be stripped from newspapers.

The changing frequency should be seen as part of the evolutionary shift toward digital only publication--a shift that is occurring at a varying pace in different types of papers and markets. But it does not mean that journalism in print, in print and digital combinations, and in digital-only forms cannot serve community needs.

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