Three and a half years after the bosses of Michigan’s Ann Arbor News “informed a shocked roomful of newspaper staffers that the paper would be rebranded as a web site” with a reduced-frequency print edition, its parent company Advance Publications has made similar changes at several more of its local titles throughout the United States.
This spring brought cutbacks to the New Orleans Times-Picayune and three Alabama dailies. Now, Advance newspapers in Syracyse, New York and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania are the latest to follow suit.
“It seems like they are doing this in regional clusters,” said Paul Pohlman, a Poynter faculty member with knowledge of Advance, according to a report by Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon.
As of January 2013, the Harrisburg Patriot-News, whose 24 year-old reporter Sara Ganim won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting for her work on the scandal at Penn State University, will appear in print only three days a week. The newspaper will merge with the website Pennlive.com to form PA Media Group.
Similarly, starting January 1, 2013, the Syracuse Post-Standard and Syracuse.com will “operate under a new business structure” called the Syracuse Media Group, the Post-Standard’s Editor and Publisher Stephen A. Rogers told staff yesterday. The newspaper’s print schedule will be limited to Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays.
Soon after such cutbacks were unveiled in New Orleans and Alabama, Advance Publications announced that it would eliminate 600 jobs between the four publications when the changes took effect. So far, no job cuts have been announced in Syracuse or Harrisburg, but in an email to Poynter, Advance executive Randy Siegel admitted that it was “likely” that there would be “fewer employees at the new organizations.”
Back in 2009, journalists at the Ann Arbor News were offered the chance to apply for positions within the new website, with the caveat that it would mean accepting a deeply downgraded salary, according to the American Journalism Review (AJR). Fifty-five jobs were lost, and those who stayed accepted a $17,000 pay cut.
What does hindsight say about the Ann Arbor experiment? AJR’s Lindsay Kalker has recently investigated, speaking to former employees, media experts and residents about the transition from the Ann Arbor News to AnnArbor.com.
"If you pay people a third of what they were paid before, and you have a third as many of them, the results aren't exactly rocket science,” replied Charles R. Eisendrath, Director of the Knight-Wallace Fellows in journalism at the University of Michigan (which is located in Ann Arbor). Eisendrath further said that the effect on the city had been “terrible,” according to Kalker’s report.
“The biggest difference is simply a physical one,” according to Geoff Larcom, who had been a reporter at the Ann Arbor News for 25 years when the transition took place, and refused to accept the pay cut. “A newspaper is a physical presence that daily reestablishes and reinforces your identity as a town. Even if you don't always partake of it, you do sometimes, and it's that enduring presence.”
Ann Arbor resident Lois Yarmain, a retired teacher, appears to have adapted well to the change: according to Kalker, the 78 year-old Yarmain visits AnnArbor.com every morning. “I read it religiously,” she said. However, having previously subscribed to the newspaper for 50 years, she acknowledged that the switch from daily newspaper to 24-hour website had left some deficiencies. “It gave me more information than I get online,” she said of the newspaper. “It gave me a btter idea of what was going on.”
Read the rest of “The Ann Arbor Precedent” by Lindsay Kalter for AJR.
Photo courtesy of danbruell via Flickr Creative Commons