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Posted by on Dec 11, 2008 in Arts & Entertainment, Economy, Media | 2 comments

Are Detroit’s Newspapers Planning To Halt Home Delivery?

In a financial world now turned upside down on several fronts, it was a shock when the venerable The Christian Science Monitor (the most underrated newspaper in the country) announced that it would say good bye to its paper edition and would become a web-only news source.

Many quickly pooh-poohed that as a general trend, noting that Monitor wasn’t your typical newspaper and that a newspaper’s life’s blood was getting the paper in that increasingly elusive reader’s hands.

But now a big, fat rumor that has not been totally shot down is sweeping Detroit — where the conventional wisdom now is that the two big city, career-destination newspapers there may soon curtail…or even end…home delivery. And Editor & Publisher’s piece makes it clear this is a story worthy of following:

CHICAGO Detroit Media Partnership CEO David Hunke addressed — but did not deny — rumors of big changes in the distribution and publication of The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press in a memo to employees Thursday.

Hunke’s memo takes on the hot rumor in Detroit these days is that Detroit two daily newspapers will eliminate home delivery, maybe entirely or maybe for most weekdays.

Until the memo, Detroit Media Partnership — the Gannett Co.-controlled agency that runs the business, production and distribution operations of the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News, which is owned by MediaNews Group — has said nothing about the supposed project. An E&P call to Detroit Media late Wednesday was returned by a public relations firm.

Here is what Hunke wrote: “In the past 24 hours you have no doubt heard a lot of rumors and several news reports about significant changes at the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News. Clearly, over the past months we have been exploring various scenarios to reposition the companies for growth and to ensure two strong newspaper voices in the community. We plan to share details early next week with you, as well as with readers, advertisers, unions and the community. In the meantime, let’s continue to focus on doing the best job we can and on building the strongest relationships we can among ourselves and with our customers.”

The rumors broke into print in a column by longtime Detroit media critic and journalist Jack Lessenberry, writing in the alternative weekly Metro Times. Lessenberry said he could not nail down the facts behind the rumors, but noted that it is an unusually detailed tale being told in the city’s newspaper circles.

More details, or rumors, were added Thursday by Jim Hopkins, the former USA Today business writer and editor who runs “Gannett Blog.”

The bottom line is that the newspaper industry is now being battered down due to the Internet, its poor decisions in ignoring the Internet and how to compete with it, and its often tin-ear in providing younger readers information they want in a style they want it…without sacrificing content that older readers and other readers have come to expect. In fact, if you travel around the country and look at once-great newspapers, quite a few of them have become glorified “shoppers” — pages with canned or uninspired reporting, with fewer pages than only a few years ago, and lots of ads…but fewer ads than even one year ago.

Note that E&P’s info on the story is essentially corporate speak. One of the ironies of newspapers and magazines is that when they are themselves asked to comment on news involving their organizations, they often will respond with “statements” — officialistic, CYA blurbs of the kind that reporters and editors find funny and sad and worthy of mockery when other news sources respond that way, rather than responding with actual candor.

So don’t rule out changes in Detroit. Anything can happen — just as the Tribune seeking bankruptcy protection happened, the nation’s news magazines Newsweek and Time now having to adjust on several fronts to diminishing advertising has happened, the New York Times seeking to borrow money against its building has happened, the AP laying off staff has happened, the NBC network axing Monday through Friday 10 p.m. scripted programming to give Jay Leno a low cost interview show has happened…and a lot more.

One constant that now seems to be evolving in news stories involving the news media: newspapers seem stunned, dismayed and unsure of how to respond to the multi-fronted catastrophe that is confronting them.

Is decreasing the content or quality of content and the ease with which to get the product a way to win readers back?

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